Few tourism attractions have experienced as much trouble as the Tung Chung cable car. The latest incident saw hundreds of passengers stranded in mid-air for nearly two hours in near freezing temperatures. This is unacceptable. What should have been a pleasantly memorable experience became an ordeal for those involved and it has damaged our city's reputation as a tourist destination. The priority must now be to identify the cause of the problem and to ensure it is fixed. Public confidence must be restored.
Marketed as one of the must-see attractions in Hong Kong, the 5.7 kilometre cable car ride is one of the world's longest. This was literally the case for the 800 holidaymakers stranded. Some of them complained staff were unhelpful and they were not kept informed of developments. With services now suspended for 10 days, thousands who bought tickets have been left frustrated and disappointed. Some said they would not visit Hong Kong again.
This is not the first time technical glitches have befallen Ngong Ping 360. The opening of the HK$1 billion project was put back after a trial left hundreds of people stranded in mid-air in 2006. The following year an empty cabin plunged to the ground during a test, prompting a change in the management company and a long publicity drive to rebuild confidence. But it appears lessons have not been learned.
Problems will be encountered from time to time, no matter how good the technology is. That is why proper maintenance and contingency plans are essential. But the latest incident shows glaring inadequacies in the way emergency situations are dealt with. News footage showed angry passengers scurrying around for help. Tickets were still sold even when the system had broken down. There was little by way of information on how to receive a refund. The dissemination of information the following day was unsatisfactory, with some tourists only learning of the suspension when reaching Tung Chung.
The problem has prompted the government to intervene. Commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung says he has ordered the management to improve contingency plans. But the incident exposes the lack of government supervision. It is surprising that the cable car company, a subsidiary of the MTR Corporation, lacks adequate contingency planning. The government, too, has to ensure similar incidents will not recur at the cable car - or, indeed, with other attractions. What sets Hong Kong apart from other parts of Asia is its reputation as a safe, value-for-money tourist destination providing memorable experiences. But that reputation is at stake. Safety and reliability are paramount to public confidence in tourist attractions such as cable cars. The government and the operator must make every effort to restore people's trust.