Hong Kong’s iconic Jumbo floating restaurant has left its home in the city’s Aberdeen South Typhoon Shelter, with its ultimate destination being uncertain.
What is Jumbo?
The Jumbo floating restaurant was the centrepiece of a restaurant complex known as the Jumbo Kingdom. The complex has been closed since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the cost of maintaining the floating restaurant has become prohibitive, with Jumbo’s parent company Melco International Development reporting a loss of over HK$100 million (S$17.7 million).
Melco had attempted to keep the ship in Hong Kong. The most notable of these efforts was giving it free of charge to the Ocean Park Corporation, a not-for-profit organization in Hong Kong that operates the famous Ocean Park theme park.
But the deal fell through as Ocean Park was unable to find anyone to take over the restaurant due to high operating fees.
Because of this, Jumbo’s owners closed the restaurant in March 2022, and tugboats took the restaurant ship out of Aberdeen on June 14, to the sound of nearby boats blaring their horns.
Boat horns sounding in tribute to what was once a landmark in the south of Hong Kong (sound on) pic.twitter.com/SM1Q26UYpy— Jonny (@jonnnnyw) June 14, 2022
Who could house the restaurant?
The ultimate destination of the Jumbo restaurant ship is now unknown, but a press release by the restaurant’s owners, reported in this Hong Kong Free Press article, has said that the ship will be undergoing repairs in an unspecified location in Southeast Asia.
This has led to speculation that the ship will find itself operating in Southeast Asia as well, which begs the question: where?
There are many reasons for countries to take on the iconic, albeit ageing, restaurant ship.
The restaurant, crafted to resemble a Chinese imperial palace, is an internationally renowned, visually striking, and extravagant locale; and this represents one of the few times such an icon can be moved wholesale from one city to another.
However, the downsides are that the ship is ageing, and in clear disrepair. Just before it was moved, its kitchen barge capsized after suffering a hull breach.
Jumbo Floating Seafood Restaurant may be moved out of #HongKong tomorrow, after its owner decided to stop its operations and not to renew its shipping license weeks ago. Its kitchen barge has already sank into the sea last week, symbolizing the death of #HongKong's good old days. pic.twitter.com/cT3rIolHoD— HongKonger (@hongkongersin) June 13, 2022
It will likely need significant repair, and refitting to meet the standards of its new home. The restaurant has been closed for nearly two years as well, so new operators will have to fix any disrepair that has set in.
It is also more of a flat bottom barge than a ship, with a tall, wide profile; meaning that it will likely need a sheltered bay, similar to the relatively narrow confines of its former Aberdeen home.
Obvious, but contentious
Perhaps the most obvious, but also most controversial, location is that of Singapore.
Singapore has been compared with Hong Kong for several decades, and the Chinese restaurant would probably be able to find a natural niche for locals and tourists alike.
Singapore’s less onerous Covid-19 restrictions would give it more opportunity to attract tourists, as well as host major events that might utilise such a space.
The city benefits from not having a typhoon season, one of the concerns that drove up the cost of renewing Jumbo’s operating license.
Singapore has numerous waterfront locations that could take advantage of the ship’s unique form. One could easily imagine it at Sentosa, or near Marina Bay.
For more pragmatic reasons, Singapore seems a good fit. If the ship is, as its owners suggest, going to Southeast Asia for refit, Singapore’s maritime sector would likely be well placed to perform such repairs and any such maintenance it will need in the future.
But whether the restaurant would be comfortable with the image of it relocating to Singapore at this time is uncertain.
With numerous organisations already looking to relocate from Hong Kong to Singapore, whether due to Covid-related restrictions or other factors, it might be considered a stab of betrayal.
Manila is a possibility. Melco operates a casino resort in the city, and it's known as City of Dreams Manila.
It also operated a sister ship, known as Jumbo Kingdom, that was also called Jumbo in the city until the mid 2000s.
Another alternate locale is Sihanoukville in Cambodia.
A resort city along the south coast of Cambodia, the Bangkok Post recounts how the city has transformed from a sleepy backpacker town to a bustling resort city with numerous resorts and casinos.
In recent years, the city has been hit hard by the pandemic. Much of its visitors hailed from China, with over 120,000 in 2017. However, they are not currently able to travel in recent times as China plans to pursue its "zero-Covid" policy.
It will also likely take quite some time to get the ship back in shape, and perhaps when Chinese travellers are able to visit Cambodia again, it would be a good addition to bolster tourism.
A home away from home
But the one more option might simply be Macau. Although this would go against speculation that the restaurant would end up in Southeast Asia, Macau seems as likely a final location as any.
The Chinese city is across the bay from Hong Kong, and relatively easy to access by its residents and tourists, such as the Hong-Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, as well as mainland China.
Added to that is the ship's own linage. Owned by legendary Hong Kong/Macau casino magnate and tycoon Stanley Ho, the ship's parent company Melco is run by Ho's son Lawrence. Melco has a heavy presence in Macao as well, owning several casinos in the city.
For all the speculation, no one really knows where the restaurant barge will land. But hopefully it will be somewhere as excited to receive it as the boats in Aberdeen harbour were sad to see it go.
Hong Kong residents said their goodbyes to the iconic Jumbo Seafood Restaurant as it was towed away by tugboats from its home of 46 years pic.twitter.com/WOfMIJHLSL— Reuters (@Reuters) June 15, 2022
Top image via Jumbo Kingdom's/Instagram