Residents of the New Territories, the Immigration Department and police can expect another tough year of even more mainland tourists and parallel traders, despite the increasingly bitter protests against them.
The mainland and Hong Kong governments regard this inflow as vital to the health of the economy.
Beijing sees the problem of parallel traders as one that the government here should solve.
And both regard the protests as a law and order issue, irrational and against the city’s economic benefit.
The groups in favour of mainland visitors are powerful – the hotel industry; major landlords; retailers, especially those that sell skin care products, pharmaceuticals and Chinese medicine; and the government of Shenzhen, which sees its economy and property prices as being closely linked to access to Hong Kong.
And after the Occupy Central movement, Beijing is in no mood to address Hongkongers’ grievances by restricting the number of individual travelers, especially those from Shenzhen, who account for the majority of parallel traders from the mainland.
On Feb. 15, for the second Sunday running, more than 100 protesters went to New Town Plaza in Sha Tin to confront the traders. Some waved flags of the colonial era.
Police made six arrests for offences including public disorder and common assault.
A week earlier, more than a dozen arrests were made at a similar protest at a shopping mall in Tuen Mun.
Last week, the Hong Kong Tourism Board said the city will receive 64.18 million visitors this year, an increase of 6.4 percent on last year, of whom 51.03 million would come from the mainland, up 8 percent.
In 2013, they accounted for 78 percent of visitors, with the number increasing 16 per cent from a year earlier.
In his comments, board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok said the city was fighting fierce competition from countries in Southeast Asia, Europe and North America that were relaxing visa access to Chinese.
“Our hotels and food are not cheap. We need new attractions,” Lam said.
“Over the past 10 years, individual travelers have come from 49 cities in the mainland. The duration of their stay is getting shorter, and the retail and hotel profits from them are falling. We hope to have more new cities and that the visitors from them stay longer.”
Lam said: “The behaviour of a small number of people in Tuen Mun destroyed the peace of Hong Kong. They influence the image of Hong Kong and destroy its law.”
Executive director Anthony Lau Chun-hon said only a small number of visitors from Shenzhen were parallel traders who made several trips in one day.
“When we look at the numbers, they do not show that all the mainlanders are parallel traders,” Lau said.
Caroline Mak Shui-king, who chairs the Retail Management Association, said she was not optimistic about her industry.
“We are affected by the anticorruption campaign, the depreciation of the renminbi and the change of mainland visitors from primary to secondary and tertiary cities,” Mak said.
“It will be hard to increase sales this year.”
These people represent the city’s business and political establishment, who see this inflow of mainland visitors as essential for the economy, of which retailers, hotels and restaurants are a pillar.
For its part, the mainland considers parallel trading a matter for Hong Kong.
“The problem has existed for many years,” said Wang Rong, Communist Party secretary of Shenzhen, during the annual meeting of the Guangdong Provincial People’s Congress earlier this month.
“The systems on the two sides of the border are different. There are different regulations on business and commerce. So the two governments will have to work hard to solve this problem.”
Beijing’s view is that Hong Kong’s complaints are like those of a spoilt brat.
Cities around the world are competing fiercely to attract Chinese to visit and spend money – but Hongkongers complain when they do.
The solution is a technical one – build markets where people can buy the goods they need without influencing the rest of the population.
Among Hongkongers, views are mixed.
Those who live in Tuen Mun, Sheung Shui and other areas near the border complain of overcrowded buses, streets and shops and queuing for goods that may be out of stock when they reach the counter.
“I do not agree with them,” said Leung Wing-tak, a taxi driver.
“I came from the mainland to Hong Kong. We are all from the mainland. How can we look down on our own people?
“Our young people are spoilt and know nothing. Of the parallel traders, many are Hong Kong residents.
“They are not skilled or educated. It is easier for them to earn several hundred dollars a day doing this than working in a shop or a warehouse.
“Would you not do the same if you were them? They are just trying to make a living.”
What all this adds up to is that there will be no major change of tourism policy in 2015.
The number of mainland visitors will increase, and the phenomenon of parallel trading will continue – to the anger of local residents and placing a great burden on the Immigration Department and the police.
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