Infrastructure Development and Real Estate-related Services (IRES)
Hong Kong’s Ocean Park: A Home-grown Success Story
 
Hong Kong’s world-class theme park, Ocean Park, is poised to soar to greater heights with an ambitious redevelopment project that enlists the expertise of some of the city’s leading design and creative consultants.
 
27 March 2015
 
 
Hong Kong’s Ocean Park:  A Home-grown Success Story

At a Glance:

  • Hong Kong has an often-overlooked advantage and expertise in theme park design, thanks to its highly successful Ocean Park.
  • The award-winning theme park has welcomed more than 130 million visitors from around the world since launching in 1977.
  • In terms of annual attendance, Ocean Park is ranked 12th in the world, fourth in Asia, and first in Greater China.
  • Hong Kong offers one-stop expertise in theme park design, providing an unsurpassed pool of expertise in all aspects of design, engineering and construction.

Amusement parks can be huge money-spinners – if the model is right. In the United States alone, Disney’s theme park revenue is forecast to exceed US$11 billion in 2015, excluding hotel earnings.

Conversely, theme parks can also fail. In China, where an estimated 2,500 theme parks have sprung up in recent decades – and 180 million people went through the turnstiles of in 2013, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions – research suggests that the profitable ones are in the minority.

The booming parks are evidence that built correctly, visitors will come. Yet America’s Disney is not the only company that can make the magic happen. Hong Kong has a home-grown success story of its own, in its hugely popular marine-themed attraction, Ocean Park.

Since it first opened its gates in 1977, Ocean Park has welcomed more than 130 million guests, with visitor numbers on a steady climb every year for the past decade. “International attention and accolades have also been an increasing feature of our daily business,” said Walter Kerr, Executive Director Project Development Division, Ocean Park Corporation. “Remarkably, for a single, ‘standalone’ park, in the increasingly competitive world of themed attractions, Ocean Park is now ranked, in terms of annual attendance, as 12th in the world, fourth in Asia, and first in Greater China.”

“Relative to numerous other complex redevelopment projects globally, this was truly an outstanding achievement, and one of which the corporation is justifiably proud,”
Highest International Accolade
The pinnacle of its kudos, to date, came in 2012, when Ocean Park won the industry’s highest international accolade, the Applause Award, the theme park industry’s equivalent to Hollywood’s Oscars.

Hong Kong’s unsurpassed pool of expertise in all aspects of design, engineering and construction, has allowed for the upgrade of Greater China’s most popular theme park
Hong Kong’s unsurpassed pool of expertise in all aspects of design, engineering and construction, has allowed for the upgrade of Greater China’s most popular theme park

How Hong Kong managed such an achievement is testament to its vision, ability, and commitment. Setting the bar high from the outset, and continuous enhancement to further raise the visitor experience, have been pivotal to the model’s success, Mr Kerr said.

However, positioning a 28-year-old institution as a must-visit attraction that would bring the hordes of future visitors required a giant leap forward. This took the form of a massive upgrade and expansion, all of which had to take place while the park remained in full operation.

“It was a hugely ambitious target,” Mr Kerr said of the HK$5.55 billion Master Redevelopment Project. So ambitious, that it’s been referred to by some as similar to carrying out “open-heart surgery on a marathon runner – while he’s running a race.”

Work commenced in 2006, and six years later, in July 2012, the whole project was completed on-schedule, and slightly under budget. “Relative to numerous other complex redevelopment projects globally, this was truly an outstanding achievement, and one of which the corporation is justifiably proud,” Mr Kerr said.

“Many lessons were learnt along the way, but the finished products stand tall, and stand proud for all to see. Their work is a testament not only to their skills and their efforts, but just as significantly, to the bold vision and leadership of Ocean Park.”
Wide-Ranging Expertise
A raft of Hong Kong-based business partners, among them specialist design, construction and creative consultants, were engaged in the reconstruction. These have included leading architectural companies Leigh & Orange and AEDAS, and construction companies Dragages, Leighton Contractors Ltd, W Hing Construction Ltd, ATAL Ltd, and Kaden Construction Ltd. Attractions International acted as the creative and theming design consultant, while Adriana Korkos, a locally -based sculptor, was created the iconic fish sculptures that grace the park’s new main entrance.

Vivien Tse, Principal Director, Leigh & Orange, said that it was a unique challenge to design a theme park that provides “edutainment” – a mix of thrilling entertainment and educational encounter with animals.

“From animal exhibits to rides, the design and construction required a massive team of consultants with a wide range of expertise,” Ms Tse said. This included, for example, a Life Supporting System expert who helped design the circulation system for marine animals, including penguins, seals, walrus and sea lions.

Then there were the site constraints: construction of three new themed “lands” – Rain Forest, Thrill Mountain, and Polar Adventure – required excavation of the existing mountain. These tasks were completed while keeping noise and vibration to a minimum, to maintain a pleasant visitor experience.

Polar Adventure, one of three new themed “lands,” required excavation of an existing mountain
Polar Adventure, one of three new themed “lands,” required excavation of an existing mountain

Many innovations were realised in taking the vision from sketch to reality. One notable work was the creation of underground “water tunnels” enabling visitors to the Polar Adventure to observe penguins diving in at high speed, just as they would naturally do in the wild.

“Rain Forest incorporates a thrilling water rapids ride, entertaining while educating guests on the importance of the conservation of these incredibly diverse parts of our world,” Ms Tse said. Thrill Mountain has exciting rides and games of skill for all ages, culminating in a hair-raising roller coaster.

Hong Kong’s unsurpassed pool of expertise in all aspects of design, engineering and construction allows the largest and most complex projects to be undertaken with confidence, Ms Tse said. “Somehow, large ambition allied with deep pragmatism and a great ability to work together marks out the people of Hong Kong - and this allows them to punch on the world stage way above their weight.”

As a result, diminutive Hong Kong has proven its ability to produce a world-class theme park that is also highly successful.

Ocean Park won the industry’s highest international accolade, the Applause Award, in 2012
Ocean Park won the industry’s highest international accolade, the Applause Award, in 2012
Experience to Share
Unusually, Hong Kong’s Ocean Park runs as a not-for-profit statutory body, wholly-owned by the Hong Kong Government, which does not provide any financial contribution. It does, however, run an operating surplus, which runs to about HK$100 million per annum. Any additional revenues are channelled into ongoing capital development, or more recently, into the HK$5.55 billion loan taken to fund the reconstruction.

The MRP has presented a wealth of exciting theme park development opportunities to both the Hong Kong infrastructure designers, and to participating Hong Kong contractors, Mr Kerr added.

“The great challenge for all involved was in appreciating the unusually intensive level of attention to detail that is required in firstly conceiving these iconic and undoubtedly world-class attractions, then in turn, building them,” Mr Kerr said. “Many lessons were learnt along the way, but the finished products stand tall, and stand proud, for all to see. Their work is a testament not only to their skills and their efforts, but just as significantly, to the bold vision and leadership of Ocean Park.”

The industry “rose well to the challenge,” and is well equipped to offer its expertise to the creation of viable theme park development across the region.