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Zeman warns against visitor curbs

Beatrice Siu

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Scrapping the Individual Visit Scheme for mainlanders will have a serious impact on the economy, Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman warned.

Zeman said yesterday half the park's 7.5 million visitors last year came from the mainland, 35percent from Hong Kong and the rest from elsewhere.

The attendance was 9percent higher than 2011 and the highest in the park's 35-year history.

Calls have been mounting for the government to cancel or review the individual travel scheme introduced in 2003, following the rise in parallel trading and the shortage of baby formula in North District.

Speaking at the park's spring reception, Zeman said canceling the scheme is "not a good idea."

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"Certainly, any city or country that closes the door to tourists is looking for trouble," he said.

"We put out the welcome mat to tourists. Cities or countries limiting tourists will only go down.

"China is moving ahead quickly. If we send the wrong message, mainlanders have other choices like Singapore. Then Hong Kong will be in trouble."

Zeman agreed it is important for the government to find solutions to current problems but closing the door isn't one of them.

"I think [health secretary] Ko Wing-man has done a good job with regard to the milk powder," he added.

Zeman also embraced the idea of granting Shenzhen residents one entry per day, "since most people don't come over more than one time a day."

The park's chief executive, Tom Mehrmann, said he is optimistic about the future and forecasts steady growth this year, thanks to an increase in mainland and local visitors.

"But as to how many we can expect in the calendar year, it is still too early to say," Mehrmann said.

He is also looking forward to the Lunar New Year and believes there will be a 5-10 percent growth in visitors.

Zeman also revealed that park staff have been offered an average 5percent pay rise.

Elsewhere, the deadline for tenders for the first phase of Ocean Hotel will be in April. So far, 12 parties have expressed an interest with the four-star hotel due to be completed in 2016.

A planned second hotel is expected to be completed in 2017 while a third facility is still being considered.

The park's executive director of zoological operations and education, Suzanne Gendron, said Whiskers Harbour will be renovated with the theme of rescuing pets such as dogs and cats.

It will be completed by 2016.


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