What, no tourists?

May 17, 2016 08:00
Greedy landlords can blame their own demands for higher rents for the closing down of retail stores and restaurants. Photo: insideretail.hk

According to our “Dear Leader” – now burdened with the sobriquet “Bagman” – Hong Kong’s economy is suffering a severe downturn because tourists from mainland China no longer wish to visit.

Leaving aside the restriction imposed last year that curtailed unlimited access for Shenzhen residents to once a week – which Bagman omitted to mention – he assigns the primary blame for the downturn to the inhospitable attitude toward mainland tourists evinced by Hong Kong residents, and now the independence campaigners in particular.

Indisputably, discourtesy to visitors, no matter from where they come, is unforgivably bad manners.

Whilst not exonerating any of these ruffians for their misconduct, it is a fact that some of the mainland visitors’ behaviour does lag sadly behind Hongkongers’ cultural norms.

Yet this is really not surprising.

The Cultural Revolution set China’s development back at least 50 years.

Regrettably, a significant number of mainland visitors not only fail to adhere to what Hongkongers regard as acceptable conduct but exacerbate the situation by an arrogant insistence on queue barging and speaking only in Putonghua.

Try that sort of thing in France, and you will quickly find yourself in the merde.

Similarly, roughing up the parallel traders is hardly calculated to make friends and influence people and falls seriously short of what we expect from Hongkongers.

Yet, given the handsome profits to be earned from such trade, most entrepreneurs on the receiving end of the abuse probably regard this as part of the cost of business.

As for the effect on tourism of the independence campaigners, absent reliable statistics, there is no evidence to support the proposition that the patently futile aims of a small, albeit vocal, minority will deter visitors.

Catalonia’s independence campaigners have absolutely no effect whatsoever on tourists flooding into Barcelona to watch FC Barcelona or have their pockets picked on Las Ramblas.

Bagman’s reference to tourism is in the context of its contribution to our economy.

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of tourist: cheap groups or the beneficiaries of corrupt practices anxious to launder their smelly money.

The cheap Charlies contribute very little to the economy, unless their tour leaders can cajole, threaten or bribe them into buying goods.

A HK$500 (US$64.40) tour inclusive of travel, five nights’ hotel, meals and coach trips is more likely to leave us hugging a deficit.

The major shortfall lies with the second category, who are running for cover as President Xi Jinping pursues them for their grubby practices.

Previously, the “laundrymen” were buying up the shiny merchandise on offer in the big gold and jewelry shops that sprang up along the length of Nathan Road like mushrooms after a rain shower, except that these retailers were more akin to toadstools than edible fungi.

This category also included the shoppers who descended like locusts on the designer label retail outlets in the shopping malls and Canton Road.

President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is reducing the major gold and jewelry businesses to tears.

I, for one, am not offering a handkerchief. It could not happen to a more deserving group of interests.

One by one, retail premises and restaurants are closing down as the landlords demand yet higher rents, displaying that singular impaired vision that comes from having enjoyed obscene profits while strangling Hong Kong’s indigenous businesses.

Doubtless, the great land development tycoons are endeavoring to bend the Bagman’s ear, laying the blame for the inexcusable reduction in their profits on the sad young people advocating independence from China, whereas the true reason for their perceived problems lies at their own doorstep -- their own unadulterated, unconscionable greed.

It is the Bagman’s ignorance or willful blindness to this viral sickness that infects Hong Kong’s economy that leads, amongst other inadequacies of an inept government, to a growing dissatisfaction and increasing sense of hopelessness.

Hong Kong is still a destination for visitors from all over the world, though they must be sorely disappointed to discover that the wonderful architectural heritage is largely being destroyed or, as in the case of the old pillar boxes, covered up in a rush of anti-colonial blood to the crutch.

(An outstanding exception is the Court of Final Appeal building, exquisitely restored, though the totality of its architectural merits is not open to the general public.)

The past is part of Hong Kong’s remarkable history, not something to be airbrushed out to meet some absurd notion of Communist Party rectitude.

The tourists who come to ride the Hong Kong-Kowloon ferry across what little is left of our harbor, ride the trams, walk around the Peak, sample Cantonese cuisine and experience the outstanding levels of service in our great hotels all contribute to the economy.

Many, if not most non-mainland Chinese tourists come to marvel at a part of China that is a great success story, not governed by the Chinese Communist Party.

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Queen's Counsel