Barclay Crawford – SCMP – Nov 30, 2006
Despite reporting record crowds and revenue, Allan Zeman says bad air quality could hit tourism
Ocean Park pulled record crowds and revenue jumped 31 per cent in the last financial year, but chairman Allan Zeman warned yesterday that the city’s pollution problem could hurt tourist numbers.
The 29-year-old park attracted 4.38 million visitors for 2005-06, earning HK$538.8 million in gate fees, up from HK$505 million the year before, according to its annual report tabled in the Legislative Council yesterday.
Once visitors were through the gates, they spent HK$189.5 million, up from HK$108.4 million.
Mr Zeman attributed the 75 per cent increase in spending once they were inside in part due to initiatives such as wedding packages, better merchandise and new food and drink services.
‘When I first got here, you couldn’t eat the food and you had to go out of the park to eat and come back again, and the kind of merchandise we had didn’t used to sell, didn’t have so much style,’ he said.
‘When you have people in a theme park, you have a captive audience, and you have to get money from them and that is what we have been concentrating on.’
But the entertainment billionaire warned that pollution was Hong Kong’s biggest challenge and said Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen must be living in another city if he did not see pollution as a major problem.
Mr Zeman was responding to Mr Tsang’s comments to a green business forum on Monday that the air quality was not as bad as Tokyo or Los Angeles.
‘We can see there is definitely pollution in Hong Kong and the government knows there is a problem and we can see it and feel it,’ he said. ‘Bad publicity is very difficult to overcome and when people around the world start saying Hong Kong is polluted then that creates a real problem because people will decide not to come here.’
Mr Zeman said it was important the government came up with a plan, such as the one instituted by Los Angeles when it became known as a polluted city. ‘This is the most serious problem in Hong Kong and it is really important that we come up with a game plan that everyone understands. I don’t like Merrill Lynch to come out and say they are advising executives to move to Singapore because that goes around the world. It’s really important that we get it right, and if tourist numbers suffer, then Ocean Park will suffer.’
While 53 per cent of visits last financial year were from the mainland and the overseas market was expected to continue to grow, Mr Zeman said the park would continue to entertain locals.
‘The more events you have and the more attractions you have, the more people will come back. You have to keep coming out with new events and each event we try to make it better and better than the previous event to keep people coming back again.’
The big jump in crowds comes as the Tourism Board released figures showing that so far this year, 20.76 million visitors had arrived in Hong Kong. This is an increase of 8.7 per cent over last year.