Hong Kong’s Ocean Park Thrives

By Robert Harland
writer Robert Harland interviews Ocean Park's chief executive Tom Mehrmann (Annie Chung photo)

writer Robert Harland interviews Ocean Park's chief executive Tom Mehrmann (Annie Chung photo)

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 Crisis

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.

Surplus ploughed back

“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.”

A life of theme parks
Robert Harland Jr's tries his hand at writing his name in Chinese (Robert Harland photo)

Robert Harland Jr's tries his hand at writing his name in Chinese (Robert Harland photo)

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.”

A bright future

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.”

Robert Harland Jr with mum Stessie enjoying one of the many rides at Ocean Park (Robert Harland photo)

Robert Harland Jr with mum Stessie enjoying one of the many rides at Ocean Park (Robert Harland photo)

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

Running for Change

Start of the 10k run

Start of the 10k runGetting ready for the start of the 3K run

Some 350 runners from Negros and Panay competed in Saturday’s ‘I Run For Change’ fun run featuring distances of three, five and 10km plus a special one kilometer event for children.

The run, to raise funds for two key environmental groups in Negros, was the climax to a month of activities in support of Earth Month.

With ABS-CBN's Jay Jalandoni (left) winners of the men's 10K run. (l-r)  third-placer Rogelio Zaragoza, runner-up Joel Alcorin and winner Eric Paneque. Looking on is Earth Month organizer Kaila Ledesma.

With ABS-CBN's Jay Jalandoni (left) winners of the men's 10K run. (l-r) third-placer Rogelio Zaragoza, runner-up Joel Alcorin and winner Eric Paneque. Looking on is Earth Month organizer Kaila Ledesma.ABS-CBN's Jay Jalandoni (left) with winners of the women's 10K run (l-r) third-placer Ailyn Grace Salas, runner-up Jennylyn Nobleza, winner Stephanie Cadosale. At right is Earth Month organizer Kaila Ledesma

Organizer Kaila Ledesma said she was delighted with the turn-out for the event.

“We had expected 300 runners so 350 was great. Everyone had a terrific time and much-needed funds were raised for the Philippine Reef & Rainforest Conservation Foundation and Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation” she said.

“The run was also designed to create wider awareness of the urgent need to protect and conserve our fragile environment,” she added.

At 73, the oldest competitor was Dr. Gil ‘Baby Doc’ Octaviano. The youngest was two and a half year-old Robert Harland Jr,

Robert Harland Jr., youngest competitor at two and a half years

Robert Harland Jr., youngest competitor at two and a half years

Winner of the women’s 10km run was Stephanie Cadosale with a time of 42:38 minutes. Second was Jennylyn Nobleza and third Ailyn Grace Salas

Winner of the men’s 10km run was Eric Paneque with a winning time of 33:37 minutes. Second was Joel Alcorin and in third place Rogelio Zaragoza.

Major sponsors of the event were Coca-Cola, Melba’s Farms, United Molasses, First Farmers Holdings, Cool Runnings, Run Club, Zagu, Powerade and Frunk Training Systems, Energy Development Corporation and Havaianas.