23rd February, 2015
Reliance on Chinese Tourists Turns Hong Kong into a Junkie
By Albert Lai Kwong-tak
The Year of the Goat (Ram) has just started, many Hongkongers stayed in Hong Kong to enjoy a few rare days of peace and quiet during Lunar New Year: not only because the air is fresher when all factories in Canton are shut during this period, but also thanks to the lower likelihood of having toes run over by suitcases in the streets and shopping malls during this time of the year. In light of these scarce few days of normal life, we should take time to reflect on how twisted Hong Kong has become.
CY Leung’s government has one amazing superpower: when facing problems created by the government, they take a bystander position to comment, and then act like they are victims and blame others, ignoring the ordinary people who are suffering from their policies. They adopt this approach both on controversial political reforms, as well as all public livelihood issues. The most prominent of these latter is the impact smugglers (or “parallel good traders”) and Chinese tourists impose on the daily lives of Hongkongers. Although CY Leung promised to resolve this problem three years ago when he was running for Chief Executive (which role is “elected” by 1,200 individuals handpicked by China), the problem is far from being resolved, in fact it has been intensifying.
Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, has turned a blind eye towards the extreme increase of Chinese tourists over the years: in 2014, the number of Chinese tourists reached 47 million. Tam has done nothing to resolve the conflicts between Hongkongers and Chinese tourists, something that he should be responsible for. When Hongkongers took the issue into their own hands and protested in areas where the smuggling problem is worst, Tam had the gall to claim to be a victim of the protest and said that his relative was late for family dinner because of the protest in Shatin. It is most unfortunate that Hongkongers have to pay government officials hundreds of thousands of dollar a month for them to play the victim in public. Hongkongers’ anger at this humiliation is only a minor thing, the major problem is the addiction Hongkongers are having forced upon on them: an economy that is rapidly moving towards being completely reliant on Chinese tourists which will eventually alter Hong Kong’s economy and its people’s livelihood if left unresolved – just like drugs will eventually take charge of an addict’s life.
Over 60 million people visited Hong Kong in 2013, which is more than the total number of visitors to the rest of China (56 million international visitors). Taking net land area into account, Hong Kong’s tourist density is 9,300 times of that in China. In 2013, London replaced Paris as the city that received the largest number of visitors in the world: 16.8 million international visitors and 12.3 million British visitors. Looking on Hong Kong, in 2014, Hong Kong received 8.6 million international visitors and 19.1 million Chinese overnight visitors. The numbers are not that different. However, if you compare the size of London and Hong Kong, the density of overnight visitors in Hong Kong is three times of that in London.
The problem is worse than just density. Over 33 million visitors came to Hong Kong without staying overnight. Transit visitors amounted to 5 million, which means that 28 million of these visitors who did not stay in Hong Kong overnight are Chinese tourists. On average, around 80,000 Chinese tourists came to Hong Kong every day who did not stay overnight. Some of these Chinese “tourists” are “parallel traders” who smuggle goods back to China (China imposes high import tax across all sorts of products), and some are Chinese “tourists” who fear made-in-China products and buy everything from Hong Kong: “shoppers” due to product safety problems in China. For this very reason, they should not be categorised as “tourists”. For the sake of being politically correct, Hong Kong SAR Government dares not analyse the problem objectively, not to mention not daring to address the problems: using town planning and immigration policies to control the problems of smugglers, daily “shoppers” and extremely large numbers of overnight tourists from China.
The most shocking thing is, however, the unbelievable tolerance of Hongkongers. If the number of tourists visiting Peking was 9,300 times of what it is today, Peking’s Government would probably deploy its army, start auctioning Peking travel visas and prevent vehicles from outside Peking from entering the capital. The most ridiculous thing is that Hong Kong’s Tourism Commission is still in operation, but its mission is to attract tourists regardless of their quality – this goes to show how deeply addicted Hong Kong has become, completely forgetting the original reasons for promoting tourism.
The World Tourism Organization adopted the Hague Declaration on Tourism in 1989. Principle III says “an unspoilt natural, cultural and human environment is a fundamental condition for the development of tourism. Moreover, rational management of tourism may contribute significantly to the protection and development of the physical environment and the cultural heritage, as well as to improving the quality of life.” The government and relevant departments have a responsibility to “determine and ensure respect for carrying capacity levels of sites visited by tourists even if this implies restricting access to such sites at certain periods or seasons”.
The World Conference on Sustainable Tourism developed the Charter for Sustainable Tourism Council which includes 18 principles. Principle 8 states that “all options for tourism development must serve effectively to improve the quality of life of all people and must influence the socio-cultural enrichment of each destination”.
Both of these show that formulating policies that ensure that: residents are not disrupted by smugglers; new-town shopping malls are not turned into smugglers’ havens, and; citizens are not paying the increasingly high price of tourist overload, is not only a reasonable demand Hongkongers have of CY Leung’s government, but also an international obligation Leung’s government has to fulfil. Leung’s government narrowly defining “developing tourism” as a means to boost the economy is simply wrong. Allowing Hong Kong’s economy to grow increasing reliant on Chinese shoppers and smugglers, will only distort investment, weaken the drive for Hong Kong to develop a diversified economy and widen the poverty gap in society. Making Hong Kong into an addict of “Chinese tourists’ spending” is an unforgivable sin.
Albert Lai Kwong-tak
Policy Committee Convenor, The Professional Commons