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Monday, August 22, 2016, 10:13

Unfazed by rising competition

By Feliks Cheang in Hong Kong

Led by Matthias Li Sing-chung, Hong Kong's Ocean Park is expanding to stay on top of the pack

Unfazed by rising competition
Matthias Li the CEO of Ocean Park Hong Kong by business leader Story, Fenix Story. (Parker Zheng/China Daily)
Amid a decline in mainland visitors to Hong Kong, Ocean Park chief executive sees it as a "healthy adjustment" and is expecting a rebound within years.

The park will also roll out new hotels, water park and attractions to continue to drive the buzz around it, and pull in more visitors from Asian markets.

Matthias Li Sing-chung, who took up his new role as top official of the Hong Kong's popular marine-themed park in July, admitted the decline in visitors was due to many external factors, including the negative impact of the earlier anti-mainland protests and relaxed restrictions for visas to other tourist destinations.

"Some mainland tourists are depressed with the unfriendliness in the city - an attitude which may be exaggerated. They feel they're more welcome in other destinations," said Li.

Uncertain macro environment and the strong US dollar have also been hitting tourism from the Chinese mainland. "But these are only short-term factors," Li said.

The latest Hong Kong data shows visitor arrivals dropped 7.4 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2016, while Chinese mainland visitor arrivals fell 3.8 percent in June, yet visitors from North Asia rose nearly 20 percent.

The amusement parks in Hong Kong also suffered from the slump. With mainland visitors accounting for more than half of ticket sales, Ocean Park witnessed a 14 percent fall in the number of visitors last year from 2014, the first decline since 2008, while Hong Kong Disneyland saw a 9 percent decline.

"It is a healthy adjustment," Li said with optimism, and considered such a slowdown as normal, especially after the upsurge in mainland tourists for the last five years.

Li maintained Hong Kong is now a "bargainous destination" for mainland tourists, as many local tourist spots and hotels offer discounts amid the tourism gloom.

He also saw the completion of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and Hong Kong's high-speed railway linking southern China would bring in more mainland patrons.

"Convenient transportation is vital to every amusement park," Li said, expecting the reach of the commuter train system will encourage more local visitors from Kowloon and New Territories, as many of them are now from Hong Kong Island.

Sitting in southern Hong Kong for 39 years, Ocean Park aims to shore up local attendance. Locals account for over 30 percent of visitors. "It is a high proportion, if you compare this figure to other theme parks," Li said, adding that freshness is also the key to keeping local visitors coming back.

In addition to five main annual events - the Chinese New Year, Easter, summer holidays, Halloween and Christmas - more innovative attractions and events will be introduced to entertain Hongkongers, for whom it was built in the first place.

"Visitors want to go to places where local people enjoy as well," the park chief executive said.

Meanwhile, Ocean Park is looking at Asia markets to attract more visitors. Home to more than 600 million people, the ASEAN region has a combined population larger than that of Europe and North America.

There is an upward trend in locals visiting the park as well as those from Indonesia and the Philippines, Li said.

Besides dwindling tourist numbers, Ocean Park is also facing the prospect of rising competition from across the Chinese mainland and other Asian countries. By 2018, Universal Beijing, 21st Century Fox World Malaysia, Six Flags, multiple new Legolands and many other smaller theme parks will be popping up across the region. Shanghai Disney has already opened for business in June.

Li, who has served the park for 22 years, aims to roll out new attractions and infrastructure, including new hotels and a forthcoming perennial water park. That would come almost two decades after a previous one was closed, and would transform the local amusement park into a regional resort. It will be the first park built on a hill slope next to the sea in Southeast Asia.

The Ocean Park Academy, the educational arm of the amusement park, provides over 30 different courses to children and teachers. Students can learn about animals, conservation, natural environment and even Chinese culture through activities involving animals and resources in the park.

"I hope the visitors not only can have fun here but also learn something about animals and conservation," Li said. "This is what makes us unique in Hong Kong, if not Asia."

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