Travel writers don't believe clean air claim A claim by Hong Kong's new environment minister that efforts to clean up the city's filthy air were bearing fruit has brought some guffaws. Edward Yau Tang-wah said there had been fewer high-pollution days in a 10-week period from May to July this year than in the same period in the previous eight years. Maybe he should tell travel writers. The pollution and overcrowding are everyday realities to those who live here, but travel guides are making sure tourists are also well aware of it. Lonely Planet's guidebook devotes a full page to pollution problems - air, water and noise. 'Pollution has been and remains a problem in Hong Kong,' author Steve Fallon writes. The book says the environmental protection department 'has had to deal with decades of serious environmental abuse and - almost as serious - a population that until recently didn't know (or care) about the implications of littering and pollution'. Lonely Planet caused consternation among tourism officials when its 2003 edition featured smog-clad skyscrapers on its cover. Other guides point to the city's pollution, with Insight's Compact Guide: Hong Kong featuring a section entitled 'Environmental degradation'. It states: 'The development of Hong Kong has taken little account of the natural environment: sewage and industrial waste is often pumped directly into the sea; the air is often thick with the unfiltered fumes of factories, power stations and cars; and landscapes and marine fauna are destroyed as mountains are levelled to provide material for land reclamation.' Insufficiently cooked fish and seafood from the 'heavily polluted Hong Kong coastal waters' also led to a spate of hepatitis A and food poisoning cases in the past few years, the guide informs readers. Only five months ago, a British archaeologist dismissed Hong Kong as a polluted city with inferior museums and poor restaurants. In a video shown to passengers on the Queen Mary II before the cruise liner visited, Professor John Reich said there was no point visiting The Peak because of the poor visibility caused by pollution. He subsequently said his comments about The Peak were to ensure passengers used the short time they had in Hong Kong properly. There were kinder words in Travelpack Hong Kong, in which London-based author Joseph Levy Sheehan writes: 'The focus on hi-tech industries seems to be making the island a cleaner and greener place with less air pollution and spotless beaches.' But he warned visitors that 'Hong Kong is a fast city, so don't be surprised when people push, shove and jump the line or fail to line up at all. Hong Kong is very crowded, night and day, and professional thieves capitalise on this'. The guide has sold more than 8 million copies. Travelpack also warns about stallholders overcharging shoppers in tourist areas. Insight details the bait-and-switch tactic, especially when shopping for electronic goods, where 'customers decide on a certain model and then shopkeepers surreptitiously wrap and present a cheaper model'. A Hong Kong Tourism Board spokesman said it tried to ensure travel guide writers had a balanced picture of the city. Staff, for example, would highlight shops accredited under the Quality Tourism Services scheme if the writer inquired about shady street peddlers along Nathan Road, he said. The board will also not mention air pollution unless the issue is raised by the writer. Last year, the board provided information, tour guides and accommodation to writers for a number of guides, including those published by Lonely Planet, Dorling Kindersley, Frommer's and Fodor's. Inaccuracies are also not uncommon despite help from the board. For instance, Travelpack spells Shenzhen 'Shenzen' and Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district 'Shung Wan'.