'Hong Kong is my home' - Allan Zeman

Updated: 2007-06-18 13:42

Officials look on as park chairman Allan Zeman (second from right) and Financial Secretary Henry Tang (right) discuss plans. [file]
HONG KONG -- In Hong Kong, there is a well- known foreigner. He transformed Lan Kwai Fong into a dazzling bar street. He turned Hong Kong Ocean Park into an international theme park. He is Allan Zeman, boss of both Lan Kwai Fong and Ocean Park.

"I came to Hong Kong 37 years ago and I like here, this is my home, I hold a Canadian passport, but a passport is just a document for traveling, I call myself Hongkongnese," Zeman, Father of Lan Kwai Fong and the happiness creator, expressed his affection in an interview with Xinhua.

In the 1980s, Zeman opened his first bar and restaurant in Lan Kwai Fong and labeled it by a fashionable name California. Led by his business sense, Zeman has eventually transformed Lan Kwai Fong, an area in Central, which used to be home to a few flower stalls and small textile factories, into a place where people of different cultures can meet and find good food and drinks and late night parties after a hard day's work, and also one of the most famous icons in town.

In 1997, before Hong Kong's return to the motherland, Zeman was one of the foreigners in Hong Kong interviewed most by the press.

"The outside world didn't understand China. They thought that the return means the end of Hong Kong," Zeman said. "Due to my background in the Chinese Mainland I saw changes taken place there. I guaranteed Hong Kong will be very successful after 1997."

Zeman traveled a lot in the Mainland, starting from late 1970s, and had much confidence in Hong Kong's future. He set up an office in Changsha, Hunan province for his garment company 28 years ago.

"China needs a city like Hong Kong to modernize it and the future will be very bright," with the freedom of speech, sound rule of law and English speaking ability, Zeman said. These advantages, together with the safeguard of "One country, Two systems" and the Basic Law, will serve Hong Kong well, he added.

After the return, Hong Kong was hit with economic downturn and SARS, which pushed the panic button among some people. However, Zeman saw it as a turning point.

Many policies carried out by the Central Government in support of Hong Kong's economy such as the Individual Visit Scheme, which allows more Mainlanders to travel in Hong Kong, are "like opening the tap and allow money flooding into Hong Kong," he said. In fact, from then on, Hong Kong's economy mounted up continuously. Also, many people who emigrated abroad have started to return.

Hong Kong Ocean Park is one of the benefited units from the traveling scheme with half of the visitors are from the Mainland.

Taking the change of customer groups in Lan Kwai Fong as an example, Zeman said that before 1997, 75 percent were westerners and 25 percent were locals; just after the returning to the motherland, the ratio became one to one; and now, local people form the biggest group.

People who migrated to the overseas and then came back might still want to continue their overseas lifestyle, and Lan Kwai Fong has become the best place for them, said Zeman. "The uncertainty has gone, people have a good life in Hong Kong."

"I was attracted by the can-do spirit of Hong Kong when I first came here," Zeman said.

Talking about his way of doing business, Zeman said "It is like flying on a plane, you should always think of sitting on the first- class, because if you failed, you can at least get into the business-class, but if you wanted to sit on business class at the very beginning, you'll go bankrupt."

Besides of doing his own business, Zeman took the chair of Hong Kong Ocean Park in 2004 as invited by the local government. He said frankly that he had never been to the park before taking up the post.

Under his management, Zeman has strived for making Ocean Park as a world-class theme park, and he succeeded. The park has become one of the must-go tourist spots and the number of visitors of the park reaches new records year by year. Forbes Traveler, a famous international travel magazine, recently ranked Ocean Park in their list of the top 50 most visited tourist attractions in the world.

In April, the Central Government presented a new panda pair as a gift to Hong Kong in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland. They are now in quarantine at Ocean Park.

On mentioning the cubs, Zeman became excited. He said that they are getting used well to the new environment and will see the public soon.

"I realize the importance of pandas which are national treasures of China," Zeman said. "The best gift that the Central Government could give to Hong Kong to celebrate its return to the motherland are the baby pandas."


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