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News 30 Nov 06
Hong Kong theme park reports growth but fears smoggy future
HONG KONG (AFP) - Tourists flooded to Hong Kong's oldest theme park in record numbers last year, a report showed, while its new rival Disneyland struggled.
But the chairman of government-owned zoo and recreation park, Ocean Park, warned that worsening pollution was likely to dent future growth.
The 29-year-old Ocean Park reported record takings in 2005/2006 of 538 million Hong Kong dollars, up from 505 million the year before. Attendances hit a record too, at 4.38 million, topping the previous highest of 4.03 million set the year before. That compared favourably with Ocean Park's much-hyped rival Disneyland, which opened in September last year but failed to reach its first 12-months target of more than 5 million visitors.
Ocean Park chairman Alan Zeman described the results as "incredible", but he warned that rising pollution and the government's lack of action to clear the city's air threatened future prosperity.
"Bad publicity is very difficult to overcome and when people around the world start saying Hong Kong is polluted, then that creates a real problem because people will decide not to come," Zeman reportedly told lawmakers.
Pollution in Hong Kong has worsened dramatically in the past few years as emissions from neighbouring southern China's heavily industrialised Pearl River Delta Region have risen.
The city takes the brunt of the smog each day as it blows in on prevailing winds, reducing visibility on more than 50 days last year, according to official figures.
The deteriorating air quality is increasingly being seen as a top political issue, as asthma and other cases of respiratory illnesses rise. It has also become a major economic concern as businesses warn they are likely to suffer a shortage of executives as expatriates refuse to be stationed in a city that is increasingly being perceived as a health risk.
The tourism industry is especially concerned as visitors are increasingly complaining about the lack of visibility at popular sights, like the famous harbour, while cases of tourists falling ill with smog-related respiratory complaints have soared.
"This is the most serious problem in Hong Kong and it is really important that we come up with a game plan that everyone understands," Zeman was quoted by the South China Morning Post as telling lawmakers.
Earlier this week, political leader Donlad Tsang was accused of brushing the matter under the carpet when he tried to convince business leaders that Hong Kong's air quality was no worse than cities like Barcelona or Los Angeles.
It followed equally contentious comments from Tsang that pollution was not a health problem but merely one of poor visibility and that Hong Kong's long life expectancy proved the issue was a small one.
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