Ocean Park veteran executive Matthias Li Sing-chung will succeed Tom Mehrmann as chief executive of the theme park from July this year.
The appointment came amid a slowdown of inbound tourism in Hong Kong and as the city’s regional rival Shanghai preparing for the opening of its Disneyland in June.
Li, 61, first joined the park as finance director and corporate secretary in 1994. He then served as deputy chief executive and chief financial officer since 2007.
“The tourism industry in Hong Kong is facing structural [change],” said Li on Tuesday at the announcement of the appointment.
“My first job is to face it,” he added.
Out with a splash: departing chief of Hong Kong’s Ocean Park confident attraction will hit visitor target
In addition to continuing promotion efforts both overseas and on the mainland, Li said the park is currently studying ways to grow its evening operations as the MTR’s South Island Line, which will link Admiralty to the park, set to open by the end of this year.
“People will be able to get to the park in minutes,” Li said. “We are thinking how to roll out evening events to attract local people after they finish work during the day and also tourists.”
Li added he was not worried about the opening of Shanghai Disneyland as Ocean Park had its uniqueness, especially its animals.
On the issue of animal welfare at Ocean Park, which received increased attention from concern groups in recent years following deaths of some of its animals it kept, Li said:“The welfare of our animals is one of the park’s core values…Every time a death happens, we are transparent about it and announce it. We always review and increase our ability to look after the animals.”
Leo Kung Lin-cheng, chairman of Ocean Park, said that Li was very good with numbers, and that the board had made the appointment decision after five months of global search.
Outgoing CEO Mehrmann, from the US, served at the park for 12 years. He had said earlier that he was stepping down this year to spend more time with his family.
Ocean Park, which opened in 1977, saw a 14 per cent drop in the number of visitors last year.
Its surplus in the year 2014/15 was HK$45.2 million, down from HK$96 million the previous year.
Welcoming Li’s appointment yesterday, tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said Li’s knowledge of theme park operation accumulated from his length of service was important to Ocean Park as it faced big challenges arising from a drop in the number of tourists visiting the city and competitions from other theme parks in the region.
Yiu added he could understand the rationale of the theme park management to expand its evening operations but said they would have to be supported by new attractions or events.
“Evening performances related to the theme of Ocean Park could be a possibility,” Yiu suggested.