| | | Effective PR

Instead of throwing money into new companies that make bad investments, try this

Nigel Morris-Co...

An iconic land - scratch that - watermark is in trouble. The 145 years old Star Ferry has suffered a perfect storm and for any water craft, that's always a bad thing. But there's a solution, albeit one that goes against the tide in modern commercial thinking.

Contrary to what many probably think, The Star Ferry is a private enterprise but a public company. It, like the trams, are part of the essence of Hong Kong. They are as iconic as Big Ben, the Tower of London, The Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

But the Ferry is unique amongst those - literal - icons in that it is and always has been self-funded. While economic and environmental factors create, figurative and - again - literal choppy waters, the Ferry keeps on chugging back and forth, its fares only last year lifted 16.7% against the 2017 level of HKD2.7 and HKD3.7 for the lower and upper decks respectively. That's four lower deck rides for one pound, incidentally.

The Ferry is in trouble. It wants to double the fares. The HK executive is saying no. During the pandemic and Hong Kong's longer-than-most strict lockdown and related policies, plus a maintenance programme accelerated to take account of choppier waters created by land reclamation forcing water faster and deeper through the harbour, Star Ferries accumulated debt.

The debt is enough to risk the future of the Ferries. The startling aspect of the story is this: the debt is HK$72 million. Seven and a half million pounds. That's the kind of sum that people used to write "only" after on cheques.

Servicing its debt is crippling. The pandemic resulted in a near 50% reduction in ticket sales, its most recently reported revenue was only HKD37 million - half of its debt, not taking into account operating costs.

Seven and a half million pounds, about ten million US dollars: its a sneeze to those venture capitalists who have thrown more money than sense into various tech companies.

It's a nod to 124 years of history, not the all too transient reflected glow from a shiny computer screen. It's a company that knows that its trade-name should be in quotation marks, that there should be a comma before "Limited." It's a company that can give lessons on surviving wars, political and social upheaval and always delivering on its promises.

FFS: someone - give them the money, put your name on a banner alongside the lower decks for the next year or on the piers. Then someone do the same the following year and the year after that.

But don't buy them out: learn from them. Find out how and why they have lasted so long while your flashy investments have lost you hundreds of millions of dollars in a matter of months.

HKG has many crypto, fintech and regtech companies of the sort that are paying vast sums to put their name on stadia around the world. Prove you have balls, not simply encourage others to play with theirs.

Call it sponsorship, advertising, CSR or whatever makes you feel good.

But someone, somewhere, do it.

image: Image by Wil Nemao from Pixabay

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