Planning a visit to Hong Kong? Then you really must spend at least one day at the renowned Ocean Park on Hong Kong Island.
It’s a fascinating home-grown theme park with many stunning features including Giant Pandas, a huge aquarium displaying more than 5,000 fish, gut-wrenching rides, spectacular views, a memorable cable car ride, a magical Amazon-themed Rainforest attraction and much, much more,
Behind the scenes, Tom Mehrmann, the park’s American chief executive knows it takes a lot of hard work to keep the fun and excitement alive to maintain the park’s position as one of the world’s premier tourist spots.
Mehrmann took over the reins at Ocean Park in 2004 when the park and the entire Hong Kong tourist industry was struggling to recover from the disastrous SARS outbreak in 2003.
SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) first appeared in February 2002 in China’s Guangdong Province before emerging in neighboring Hong Kong in late February. The epidemic had a huge negative impact on tourism around the world, especially on Hong Kong.
“It’s been quite a ride since those dark days of SARS”, says the 52 year-old Mehrmann. “But today business has never been better. Annual visitor numbers have almost doubled since 2004 to six million.
Mehrmann credits much of this success to the ‘can do’ attitude and hard working approach to life of his Hong Kong staff combined with a highly motivated board of directors headed by billionaire businessman Allan Zeman.
Ocean Park opened in 1977 funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club with land provided free by the Hong Kong Government. It ceased to be a subsidiary of the Jockey Club in 1987, becoming its own statutory body, with a Government-appointed Board.
Today the park is managed by the Ocean Park Corporation, a financially independent, non-profit organization.
Although a non-profit organization, it’s been making money for eight straight years.
“The park’s ‘profit’ is regarded as a surplus and is ploughed back in to the business enabling us not only to maintain our current attractions to the highest levels, but also to introduce new attractions,” Mehrmann added.
His basic philosophy is that all attractions have to be culturally relevant. So with that in mind he and his team drew up a master plan in 2004 which will eventually see some 70 attractions in the years to come.
The park has also benefited from the Chinese government’s move to allow its nationals to travel freely to places like Hong Kong.
“These days over 50 per cent of our visitors are from mainland China. 40 per cent are locals with ten per cent from other countries.
“Basically our visors fall into two categories. Those who are on group tours and they tend to only stay a few hours and those traveling individually who usually make a full day of it. Interestingly, most of our customers from the Philippines are individual travelers and tend to spend an entire day at the park.”
Mehrmann has been the theme park business all his working life. “I started as sweeper in a theme park in Florida back in 1977 when looking for part time work to pay my way through college.”
He enjoyed theme park life so much he stayed on after graduating and worked his way up the ladder at numerous parks ending up as vice president and general manager of the Warner Brother’s Park in Madrid, Spain.
His move to Hong Kong was a major step, but he’s never looked back.
“Hong Kong is a great place to live and work. It’s such a vibrant city and the local work force is second-to-none. Its easy to see why this small territory has done so well when you see how hard-working and conscientious its people are.”
And what’s to come? Mehrmann is bullish on the future of Ocean Park.
“It certainty looks very bright and we are confident we can maintain the park’s strong growth, especially with the many exiting soon to be launched new attractions including Thrill Mountain and Polar Adventure.”
But Ocean Park is not only about entertaining millions of visitors each year. It also channels surplus funds into the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation which promotes major conservation projects for dolphins, whales and giant pandas plus programs involving birds, reptiles and amphibians in many parts of Asia.
If you do plan to visit Hong Kong and need a modestly priced, but good quality hotel, my favorite is the Ibis in North Point on Hong Kong Island. Stunning harbor views, very clean and a great location.
Submitted on Friday, September 30, 2011