Officials look on as park chairman Allan Zeman (second from right) and Financial Secretary Henry Tang (right) discuss plans.
Allan Zeman is German-born but grew up in Montreal and now, in Hong Kong, he has been dubbed “Mr. Lan Kwai Fong.” He has, in short, revolutionized Lan Kwai Fong, a narrow L-shaped street in Hong Kong’s Central District, changing it from an area known for flower stalls, small textile factories and a garbage collection center into a cultural hot spot with restaurants, bars and late night parties. When visiting you might want to head to this area after a hard day at work as it is one of the most famous locations in Hong Kong, and most fun.
Zeman has had an interesting journey. He moved to Hong Kong in 1975 when he was 20 years old and once settled he felt it needed a western style restaurant, so he opened “California” in 1983 in Lan Kwai Fong which became his claim to fame. One year later, following this success, Zeman bought the whole block and began a new career as an entertainer and property developer eventually founding the Lan Kwai Group and developing this location into one of Hong Kong’s most popular entertainment destinations for expatriates as well as tourists. Friday and Saturday nights are often jammed with people, leading to vehicle traffic being suspended at certain times, giving the streets over to pedestrians. As a measure of its success to appeal to locals as well as foreigners, 75 percent of Lan Kwai Fong visitors were westerners before 1997 (the rest were locals). Now, it is more of a 50/50 split, even though it is one of the few places where English is the predominate language. As Zeman puts it, “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.”
Later, in 2004, Zeman became chairman of Ocean Park, an amusement park which is now out performing and thriving against the struggling Hong Kong Disneyland. Upon acquiring this new role, Zeman recognized he could not and should not redesign the park to resemble Disneyland and instead chose to use the park’s seaside setting as the main theme focusing on the environment (the ocean and animals), education and conservation. Zeman notes that he learned from his experience with Lan Kwai Fong that the people are ready and eager for something new. In 2006, Forbes Travel listed Ocean Park as one of the top 50 most visited tourist attractions in the world. With almost 4.4 million visitors to the Park in 2006, and $539 million HKD, he turned it into a world class theme park. This success earned him the name as Hong Kong’s Mouse Killer, taken from a 2007 Forbes magazine article. The renovation is expected to be completely redone in 2012.
Today Zeman is in the news as he has given up his Canadian passport to become a Chinese citizen. The Ottawa Citizen reports that reactions are mixed in Hong Kong’s Canadian community, but the South China Morning Post sees this as a positive sign for Hong Kong as seen in their editorial: “Changing one’s allegiance to that of one’s adopted country of abode is a personal matter of conscience …. Mr Zeman, after all, is not typical. But he is a welcome ‘new Chinese’ whose own decision reflects the arrival of modern China, and its financial centre of Hong Kong, on the world stage.” Also worth reading is their article titled “Born-again Chinese“.
Allan Zeman, middle
Not shy of celebrating an occasion, Zeman has been known to dress up as a jellyfish to promote the new Sea Jelly Spectacular at Ocean Park. He later wore a shiny blue gown, high heels and danced to promote the Park’s summer program. He’s also donned a silver wig and again danced to celebrate on the Park’s 30th anniversary.