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Island of adventure: Could South Lantau become a mecca for eco, adventure and sports tourism?

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South Lantau has the potential to become a mecca for eco, adventure and sports tourism. Achieving this need not compromise the natural environment, says LanDAC member, and group chairman of Mission Hills Group, Ken Chu.

Lantau is the largest island in Hong Kong but it has a pleasantly low population density compared to the rest of the territory, and therefore offers a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city centres. Aside from its stunning landscape and coastline, Lantau’s natural attractions include a rich variety of wildlife, rare species of tree frogs, precious flora and fauna and a vibrant cultural heritage.

To make the most of the unexploited natural environment and rich biodiversity, the government plans to bolster the growth of sustainable tourism – the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the environment, society and economy – in South Lantau, with an emphasis on eco, adventure and sports tourism.

Reaping the rewards of sustainable tourism

While both eco and adventure tourism are a form of special-interest travel, catering to a niche market, they have grown rapidly in the past decade to become a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide. Sports tourism is also becoming increasingly popular, and it is so even among young mainland Chinese travellers, aged between 20 and 25. One out of four within this age group has expressed strong interest in participating in extreme sports while travelling abroad. Last year, two-thirds of visitors to Queenstown, New Zealand’s leading skydiving hub, were young mainlanders.

South Lantau is already a playground for outdoor sports enthusiasts, who enjoy a huge range of activities, including hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing, kayaking, kiteboarding and paragliding. Improving the facilities on offer would secure tourist interest, and at the same time benefit the locals, who would have year-round access to the new-and-improved sports amenities.

A regulated influx of visitors to South Lantau would, of course, boost Hong Kong’s tourist industry, and it’s important not to overlook the way it would also profit the local community.  Studies show that local communities benefit directly from non- mainstream (adventure, eco and sports) tourism. This is because mainstream tourists tend to spend their money in international hotel and resort chains and fine-dining restaurants, and they head to the upmarket malls to buy branded consumer goods. By contrast, non-mainstream tourists prefer to stay in locally managed B&Bs, they spend their money at local farms and eateries, and they enjoy traditional handicrafts and snacks. Local Lantau business people, even down to the sellers of dried seafood and shrimp paste, would therefore benefit greatly from the growth of sustainable tourism.

Looked at this way, promoting non-mainstream tourism incentivises local communities to continue with their efforts to conserve their culture and traditional ways of life, which otherwise gradually disappear.

Preserving the natural environment

It is essential that we capture this opportunity for growth without endangering the island’s rich biodiversity and incredible natural scenery. To this end, the government has, since the early 2000s, attempted to map out a conceptual framework for Lantau, balancing the need for development with that of conservation.

According to the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, released by the government in June, future development will be concentrated on North Lantau. [Click here to read more.] The south of the island has been designated for nature conservation, and environmentally sustainable recreation and tourism purposes. We can look forward to a water sports centre, camping grounds, heritage and nature trails and an adventure park. Development in ecologically sensitive areas, such as the Pui O wetlands and Tai O mangroves, will be avoided.

Making the best use of the natural environment without destroying it, is what sustainable tourism is all about. What’s more, non- mainstream tourists tend, by their very nature, to be environmentally aware. That said, raising public awareness is vital to the success of sustainable tourism, and efforts must be made to further educate visitors to Lantau. To this end, the government intends to set up environmental education centres across the island to help visitors learn to appreciate Lantau’s natural attractions and behave responsibly.

When discussing the growth of sustainable tourism in South Lantau, some residents have expressed concerns that the area will be overrun by visitors. While the number of tourists is not expected to be so very great, traffic and crowd-control measures will need to be put in place.

The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint also outlines a plan to go electric on all means of transport in South Lantau in the longer term.

To move forward, the government needs to continue to find ways to minimise any potential negative impact caused by the growth of sustainable tourism. After all, Lantau is one of the few remaining natural assets in the Pearl River Delta.

Ken Chu is group chairman and chief executive officer of Mission Hills Group and a member of the Lantau Development Advisory Committee (LanDAC). Mission Hills Group, headquartered in Hong Kong, is a pioneer in China’s hospitality, sports, leisure and wellness sectors, operating golf courses, hotels, resorts, shopping malls and international schools in Shenzhen, Dongguan and Haikou. Visit www.missionhillschina.com.

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