Sun, Dec 07, 2008 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Penghu awaits casinos with mixed feelings

By Richard Hazeldine  /  STAFF REPORTER

Penghu’s position midway between Taiwan and China has many operators salivating at the prospect of being able to tap the Chinese tourist market — especially given the success of Macau.

There are “350 million Chinese living within 1.5 hours flying time from Penghu,” Hines said, but for now his company is only concentrating on Taiwanese, a wise strategy considering the restrictions recently placed on Chinese visits to Macau by Beijing.

Chinese tourists, if they are allowed to come, would be an added bonus, he said.

But not everyone is enamored at the prospect of gambling coming to Penghu, despite the fact that several referendums have shown a majority of residents favor the casino plans.

Religious groups and residents have expressed concerns that the arrival of casinos could disrupt the traditional close-knit communities of the islands and bring crime and prostitution, while environmentalists worry that masses of tourists could damage the islands’ unspoiled beauty.

For Lee Ken-cheng (李根政) of Mercy on the Earth, Taiwan, one of the biggest concerns is the impact an increase in tourists would have on Penghu’s scarce water resources, as the islands already have to ship water from Taiwan proper during dry spells.

Chimei Island (七美) has only been open to tourism in the last 20 years or so, Lee said, but already it is having major problems with salinization of its fresh water supply. An increase in tourists will only exacerbate this problem, he said.

More hungry tourists would also be devastating for the islands’ fisheries, which have already seen catches drop by half or more in the last 20 years, he added.

Local residents are also divided on the issue.

Hsueh Ming-feng (薛明峰), a 40-year-old pharmacist, said: “The referendums were not performed correctly. Only those who expressed an interest in the issue were allowed to vote.”

“The biggest concern is the environment and the pollution an increase in visitors will bring,” he said. “And there are worries about prostitution.”

“Most normal people are not in favor of the plans, only those who stand to benefit by selling land support it,” he said.

“The extra visitors that casinos bring will only spend their money in the resorts, not outside,” he said.

Shop owner Wu Yuan-li (吳源利), 71, disagreed.

“I’ve been to casinos in [South] Korea and other places and have seen what benefits they can bring,” he said. “Foreign tourists will come and the hotels and shops will have better business.”

“When you rely on the sea for a living there is no business in winter,” he said. “All the young people here usually go away to Kaohsiung, Taichung and Taipei, but if we open casinos, then hopefully some of them will come back.”

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