Hong Kong's newest tourist attraction - Ngong Ping 360 - finally got off the ground Monday after a three-month delay due to technical glitches.
The soft opening of the billion-dollar Lantau cable car system - accompanied by traditional lion and dragon dances, as well as roast-pork offerings - saw more than 1,600 people take the first rides from Tung Chung to a newly built cultural and retail village near the famous Big Buddha statue at the Po Lin Monastery.
The ceremony was officiated by Russell Black, project director of MTR Corp, which owns the project; Ken Chapman, chairman of Skyrail-ITM, the system's operator; and Bill Calderwood, managing director of Skyrail- ITM.
Tourism Commissioner Au King- chi - who went up to Ngong Ping Village by car - said the new project would give a vital boost to tourism.
"The opening to the public of Ngong Ping 360 is a milestone for Hong Kong tourism," said Au, the only senior government official to attend the event.
Au said she did not take part in the opening ceremony because she had not been officially invited. Asked if she had been given the snub, she replied: "I'm just doing my job here."
A spokeswoman for Skyrail said: "We didn't invite government officials this time. We'll be having a grand opening in about a month, at which we'll invite representatives of the government, the travel industry, tourism bodies and other stakeholders in the project.
"Our focus today is on welcoming the public to enjoy the Ngong Ping 360 experience."
There was some confusion shortly before the opening, with a tourist from Shenzhen complaining that he was disappointed at failing to get a cable car ride on his last day in Hong Kong.
"I need a refund on my ticket," the visitor, surnamed Feng, said. "I had originally planned to take the ride up to the Big Buddha and have my lunch at the Po Lin Monastery. I had a ticket for 10am-2pm, but the staff wouldn't let me get on the car," he said.
Hong Kong resident Tony Li said he also found himself in a similar situation, having had to wait for an hour with his wife.
"We bought the tickets last Friday to show our support for this new tourist attraction. But the arrangements are so inappropriate. I think the company should be held responsible," Li said.
A spokesman for Skyrail explained that the tickets had stipulated times for cable car rides.
The system, linking Tung Chung with Ngong Ping plateau and the Big Buddha statue, traverses nearly six kilometers of hills on Lantau island, offering panoramic views of the South China Sea. It was to have opened in June, but was held back following a breakdown during testing which left 500 people stranded in cabins in midair for almost two hours.
Skyrail-ITM has been plagued by an exodus of senior executives, which hit the company's finance, public relations, maintenance, leasing, retail and purchasing units.
However, four of the executives have since been replaced, Calderwood said.
"The important thing is we're looking for people who understand our concept and fit in with local culture," he added.
Calderwood said he was confident operations would be smooth during major holidays ahead, including the mainland's "Golden Week," which starts on October 1 to mark National Day.
A retail shop owner at Ngong Ping Villages said she hoped the coming holiday season would draw more tourists.
"We aim to have a business turnover of HK$20,000-HK$30,000 every day during the Golden Week holidays," she said.
Another shop owner said he hoped the Tourism Board would do more to promote the attraction overseas.
Calderwood said the company was in talks with other shop owners on the possibility of extending their rent-free period.
A Hong Kong Tourism Board spokeswoman said: "We believe the new attraction will have a strong appeal to visitors from both the long- and short- haul markets."