Theme Parks Crucial for Tourism Growth
By Do Je-hae
As Korea strives to become a superpower in tourism, it has no better Asian model to replicate than Hong Kong, a highly preferred destination for tourists all over the world. An icon of Hong Kong is the 33-year-old Ocean Park, one of the world’s most popular and sizable amusement parks, hosting over 4 million visitors annually.
The sea-life and animal theme park has been a benchmark model for similar ventures in Korea, such as Lotte World and Everland.
“Korea is obviously a very important market for us. One out of five Koreans visitors to Hong Kong have visited Ocean Park,” Tom Mehrmann, chief executive of Ocean Park Corporation, said during an interview with The Korea Times, Wednesday, at the Westin Chosun Hotel in central Seoul. “Korean airlines and travel agencies have been very supportive as well.”
Mehrmann and his delegation are visiting Korea to promote some of the new additional attractions at their park. They stressed that theme parks are great catalysts for success for any country that wants “tourism dollars.”
“Asia is becoming the focus of theme park development. Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China are rushing to build them,” Mehrmann said.
China, in particular, has been forthcoming about theme parks. In a landmark move, China recently approved the construction of its first Disneyland in Shanghai. The $3.5-billion project makes it one of the largest-ever foreign investments there. Developments are also under way in Beijing, Gangzhou and Shenzhen.
“Theme parks are a major component of tourism campaigns and tourism dollars,” Paul Pei, executive director of sales and marketing, said. “This is because they are important for the growth of the surrounding community by creating jobs and new infrastructure. Also, theme parks offer a great opportunity for families to spend time together.”
Ocean Park has fared better than its rival Disneyland Hong Kong in terms of attendance and revenue. “Competition is good for improving our services,” Pei said.
Located on the southern side of Hong Kong, the park covers more than 870,000 square meters. It has connected guests with nature through education, conservation, and entertainment for more than 30 years.
Ocean Park houses 20 attractions featuring rare animals, including giant pandas, red pandas, and thousands of fish, bird, amphibian and marine mammal species. In addition, tourists can enjoy 20 ride attractions, including the iconic cable car with a fantastic view of the South China Sea.
“We are constantly evolving with new attractions and facilities, giving reasons for people to come back,” Pei said. “There is a saying that ’One has not been to Hong Kong until one has been to the Ocean Park.’ We offer unique experiences, such as the honorary panda keeper program, and our entertainment is also world-class,” Pei said.
As part of the re-development plan, Ocean Park recently launched an Amazing Asian Animals attraction, which includes rare animals. The third phase is to begin in 2010, and will include an aquarium featuring over 5,000 fish. Currently, the park houses 40 attractions which will increase to 70 by the end of the re-development.
The Ocean Park delegation visit comes at a time when cross visits between the two countries are on the rise. Last year, a total of 845,000 Koreans visited Hong Kong, posting a 9-percent increase from the year before, and 160,000 people from Hong Kong visited Korea, 15 percent more than the previous year.
What is it about Korea that Hong Kong people find worth seeing? “Seoul has unbelievable characteristics and is a wonderful destination,” Mehrmann said. “Korea has wonderful food and exciting day and night life. And don’t underestimate the merits of your seasons. You have winter and skiing ― something we don’t have in Hong Kong.”
Ahead of the official launch of a 3-year Visit Korea campaign, many Koreans are increasinlgy looking to learn from Hong Kong’s phenomenal tourism success. “The depth and breadth of experiences for tourists in Hong Kong are significant. Hong Kong offers a very compact range of services, whether it is shopping, transportation, hotels and etc,” Pei said.