The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Ocean Park Unveils Latest Attraction

by Christopher Shay

Hong Kong theme parks are locked in a race to build attractions as they compete for visitors amid rising competition in the region.

The latest splash: A 500-square-meter Amazon exhibit, unveiled by Ocean Park on Tuesday, that features a jungle raft ride, an aviary and live animals, including a now-pregnant anaconda and two capybaras, the world’s largest rodent. In perhaps a gesture meant for competing theme parks, Allan Zeman, chairman of Ocean Park, opened the new attraction, called the Rainforest, wearing Amazon war paint along with a blue headdress and a grass skirt.

The Rainforest, part of a 5.6 billion Hong Kong dollar (US$719.3 million) redevelopment plan by Ocean Park, is just the latest move in the battle for Asia’s fun seekers, especially the growing number of mainland Chinese tourists. Last year, the number of mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong jumped more than 26% to nearly 23 million, according to Hong Kong government statistics.

Hong Kong Disneyland, which has yet to earn a profit since it opened in 2005 but had record attendance last year, is in the middle of its own HK$3.6 billion expansion, which includes a Toy Story Land attraction slated to open this year.

In Sentosa, Singapore, the world’s largest saltwater aquarium is set to open in 2012 with some 700,000 fish, blowing Ocean Park’s Aqua City aquarium, which opened in January and houses about 5,000 fish, out of the water. Another massive theme park called Ocean Kingdom, part of a 200 billion yuan (US$30.85 billion) project in Zhuhai, China, just across the border from Macau, is set to open in 2013. Its operators expect to attract 20 million visitors a year with eight different theme areas.

Ocean Park, a 34-year-old Hong Kong government-owned amusement park, saw record attendance last year with more than five million visitors. Mr. Zeman said that the park is expected to set another attendance record this year. He said Aqua City fueled a 20% rise in attendance and he predicts it will jump another 10-15% with the Rainforest. Later this year, as part of the same redevelopment plan, a ride called Thrill Mountain will begin operation. Next year, a re-creation of an old Hong Kong street and a polar-themed attraction are scheduled to open.

Ocean Park’s redevelopment plan is funded by loans, including a HK$1.4 billion one from the Hong Kong government. Mr. Zeman said there are no immediate plans to raise ticket prices to pay for the construction of the new attractions. The park has earned a profit the past seven years.

“As long as we keep coming up with attractions like the Rainforest, I feel very confident we’ll continue to set records,” Mr. Zeman said.

But that doesn’t mean the chairman should remove his war paint just yet. He said that in recent months representatives from Disneyland in Shanghai, which is set to open in 2015, have visited Ocean Park three times.

“The competition is getting better and better,” he said.

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