Hong Kong’s retail and tourism sectors have suffered another setback as mainland media have, with good reason, reportedly widely the tragic death of a Chinese tourist in the city this week.
Already reeling from slowing sales, the latest negative publicity about a “forced shopping” trip that went horribly wrong for a visitor was something that local tourism-related businesses could ill afford.
Now, as the damage has already been done, what can Hong Kong do to redress the situation and prevent such incidents from happening again?
And what are the broader lessons for local tourism authorities?
On Monday, a mainland visitor was beaten up by a gang of men after he intervened in a brawl between a fellow tour group member and the tour guide.
In the incident that took place at a jewelry store in Hung Hom, the 53-year-old man stood up in support of a female fellow tourist who was being berated for not making any purchases at the store.
Following a loud argument and some scuffles, the man was dragged out of the shop and beaten up by a gang of four men.
The beating was so severe that the victim, a person named Miao Chunqi, later died in hospital.
China’s state media, not surprisingly, has covered the news in detail, portraying it as a reflection of the chaotic Hong Kong tourism market and lack of protection for mainland shoppers.
The Global Times, for instance, wondered if there is enough rule of law in Hong Kong’s tourism industry.
Following the earlier scathing criticism over anti-parallel trading protests in Hong Kong, the latest commentary on cross-border shopping issues is bound to put off more mainlanders.
While some reports say that the assailants of Maio were from the mainland, Hong Kong’s tourism authorities still cannot avoid facing difficult questions.
The tragic incident could, in fact, serve a purpose if the government wakes up to the uncomfortable truth regarding many tour groups from China.
The root of the problem is that some low-quality tour service operators in China have been offering “zero” price tours to Hong Kong to force tour members to spend in specific shops in Hong Kong.
The tour operators hope to more than make up for the cheap tours by reaping commissions from the retail outlets with which they have prior arrangements.
While some Chinese tour members know such norms and are willing to spend in the shops they are taken to, some of them resent being put under pressure and refuse to make purchases.
It is then that conflicts arise with the tour guides and trip organizers, leading to violence in some cases.
The distorted service chain has been in existence for many years, but authorities in both Hong Kong and China have shown little inclination or courage to tackle the issue.
One reason why they have been reluctant to shake up things is this: officials fear that disrupting the trade will go against the process of deepening the commercial ties between China and Hong Kong.
Even after several reports of mainland shoppers being taken for a ride, the Leung Chun-ying administration has failed to act over the issue of errant tour service providers.
Now, with the shocking case of a tourist’s death following a “forced shopping” trip, one only hopes that it will finally be a wake-up call for the government.
The time has come for our chief executive to address the industry problems, fixing things at home as well as putting pressure on Chinese authorities to clamp down on shady tour services firms.
The task is not too difficult if Leung musters the will and determination and the political courage to take on some vested interests.
Is he up to the challenge?
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