Hong Kong's Big Buddha cable car takes off

A new Hong Kong cable car to take tourists to one of the world’s largest outdoor statues of Buddha opened to the public this week after a three-month delay due to technical problems.

The attraction is the latest in a string of multibillion-dollar tourism projects aimed at making Hong Kong one of the world’s top holiday destinations.

A simple ceremony with traditional lion and dragon dances marked the launch of Ngong Ping 360, which took more than 1 300 visitors to a newly built cultural and retail village near the famous Big Buddha statue.

A grand opening will be held in a month although a date has not been set.

“Today ... marks the beginning of the first official day of Hong Kong’s newest tourist attraction,” said Bill Calderwood, MD of cable-car operator Skyrail.

He said the new attraction will enhance the city’s “reputation around the world as a pre-eminent tourist destination” against increasing competition from other neighbouring Asian countries as well as China and gambling haven Macau.

The cable car, which traverses 5,7km of verdant hills on the city’s largest Lantau island, will help tourists discover another side of a city best known for its shopping and food, he said.

Ngong Ping 360 cost HK$1-billion ($128-million) to build and took two years to complete.
It is expected to draw 1,5-million people each year.

As well as the 25-minute cable-car ride, the attraction features a village that boasts educational exhibitions and retail spots. Previously the only way to get to the Big Buddha was by bus.

The project has been dogged with problems. The launch, which was originally set for June 24, was postponed indefinitely after a breakdown during testing that left 500 visitors hanging mid-air in motionless cabins for two hours.

Shop owners there also complained of the late opening and loss of business. On the eve of the opening, local newspapers reported that seven senior staff at Skyrail had resigned in the past three months, as they were unhappy with the lack of transparency in the top management.

Calderwood confirmed that seven employees in the management team had resigned; four had already been replaced and three more would be appointed shortly.

“With any start-up operation you expect that there would be change ... you find some people choose to depart and take up other chances,” he said, adding assurances that the staff changes would not affect the rail’s operation.

For Dick Mak, a 38-year-old toy trader, the ride was worth the wait. “It felt really safe. I usually got car sick on the bus to the island, but this was very steady and enjoyable. I saw the beautiful scenery that I’ve never seen in Hong Kong before,” he said.

Hong Kong has committed billions of dollars to develop its tourism facilities, including for the construction of a $3-billion Disneyland resort and another $712-million to upgrade the ageing Ocean Park attraction.—AFP

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