Ocean Park has been closed since January 26, soon after Hong Kong confirmed its first coronavirus cases. Photo: Edmond So © SCMP Ocean Park has been closed since January 26, soon after Hong Kong confirmed its first coronavirus cases. Photo: Edmond So

Ocean Park could run out of cash by September, its CEO warned on Friday as he estimated the Hong Kong attraction had missed out on nearly 1 million visitors over three months of its coronavirus shutdown.

With the health crisis intensifying the resort's financial woes, Matthias Li Sing-chung said no decision had been made on when the park would emerge from the shutdown imposed on January 26, but said it could return within two weeks once conditions were deemed suitable, even if some social-distancing restrictions remained in the city.

Li told a press conference on its preparations for reopening that the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic had sent the park's finances spiralling to an all-time low.

"With the epidemic and the situation I mentioned, reserves are very tight and cannot make it to September," he said.

a man standing in front of a building: (From left) Senior Ocean Park staff © Provided by South China Morning Post (From left) Senior Ocean Park staff

Even when up-and-running again, the theme park would only operate at lower than half-capacity, which is equivalent to fewer than 18,000 guests at a time, said Li, who estimated the resort would have welcomed nearly 1 million visitors if it was open over February, March and April.

Talks with the government and other stakeholders were continuing, the CEO added, as park bosses faced an uphill struggle in securing a HK$10.6 billion bailout from the government to tide the business over.

With just HK$400 million in the bank in January, senior management warned the park would run out of money this year without fresh capital, blaming the downturn partly on intensifying competition in the region.

It is seeking the legislature's approval for the funding, which would help turn Ocean Park into an adventure-themed resort, but lawmakers across the political spectrum have been sceptical.

Pressed on whether the park would reduce the sum requested, Li said: "We are still discussing with the government on this proposal, I think the government will make an announcement at an appropriate time."

In April, commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said the resort's financial situation had declined compared with three months ago and the need for government financial support was "even more imminent".

The park has slashed senior management salaries and asked staff to take unpaid leave as part of cost-cutting measures due to continue ahead of reopening.

Li said Ocean Park had applied for about HK$1 million from the first round of the government's HK$30 billion anti-epidemic fund.

It was also looking to the wage subsidy scheme, as well as the allowances available for food and drinks businesses, from the HK$137.5 billion relief package announced later.

A spokeswoman for the attraction in Southern district said the relaunch could happen within two weeks of an assessment that conditions were suitable, with considerations including the government's measures, expert advice and the industry's views.

Li said the decision was not necessarily dependent on the lifting of all social-distancing restrictions.

"The key point is the outbreak in the community is controlled and comes to a stage that people are confident to come out and socialising. Then I think we would be ready to open," the CEO said.

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On reopening, visitors would have to make advance reservations online and present booking codes for admission. Capacity for rides and facilities would be more than halved, and all visitors and staff must undergo temperature checks upon entry and wear masks.

Attracting local visitors will be the initial focus and they will be targeted with an array of special offers rolled out for the relaunch, although the management did not reveal details.

Li said he hoped the park could welcome guests again before his retirement in July.

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the existing bailout proposal for Ocean Park might have to be put to one side and focus shifted to "saving it".

He said: "The funding proposal was made when the park still had an income. But the park has now halted the operation for three months. So it's different."

The city's other theme park, Hong Kong Disneyland resort on Lantau Island, has also been closed during the health crisis, with a spokeswoman saying it aimed to resume operations "as soon as it is advisable".

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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