Hong Kong Star Ferry needs rescue plan as tourism drops

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Hong Kong Star Ferry needs rescue plan as tourism drops

The Star Ferry, an icon of Hong Kong and arguably the world's most famous ferry ride, is in financial trouble. But in typical fashion for the city, billionaires — and shopping — could hold the key to its survival.

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The 142-year-old ferry, which transports passengers across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong island to the Kowloon mainland, is seriously indebted. The Star Ferry Company saw a loss of more than HK$70 million (US$8.9 million) since mid-2019 when mass protests erupted in the city, according to a company statement in March. Its two ferry routes recorded 1 million passengers in the first two months of the year — just 27 per cent of the level in 2019.

“At present, I don’t dare to be optimistic that the Star Ferry can survive this wave of blows,” General Manager David Chow said in the statement. The company is now relying solely on loans to get by, including to pay employees.

These operation statistics would normally suggest an imminent collapse for an ordinary company, but the Star Ferry will likely live on thanks to the backing of a billionaire family and its retail ambitions — and deep love in the city for an institution that many will be saddened to lose.

The Star Ferry Company is owned by property developer Wharf Holdings, which operates the ferry on a 15-year franchise granted by the government. Meanwhile, the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui, one of Hong Kong's most popular shopping destinations, is just minutes-walk away from Harbour City, the flagship mall of Wharf.