Why it's time to limit mainland visitor numbers

November 26, 2018 18:36
Mainland visitors queue up for a bus that will take them to the Hong Kong port of a sea-crossing bridge. A visitor influx via the new bridge has prompted Tung Chung residents to complain about congestion and other problems in their neighborhood. Photo: HK

To resolve overcrowding and other problems caused by mainland tourists arriving via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB), district councilor Holden Chow Ho-ding, who represents the Tung Chung South constituency, suggested recently that authorities should consider “diverting” the visitors from Tung Chung into other areas of the city by coach or other cross-border vehicles.

At first glance, the so-called diversion seems a viable solution to the overcrowding in Tung Chung.

However, the problem is, the majority of mainlanders who arrive in Hong Kong through the HZMB are same-day visitors, and therefore under most circumstances, they would only remain in Tung Chung and the nearby areas during their trip as they wouldn't have enough time to go to other attractions in the city elsewhere.

So, the diversion strategy proposed by Chow just won’t work.

According to figures provided by the Immigration Department, the number of people entering and leaving Hong Kong through the HZMB over the Nov. 17 and 18 weekend slightly increased compared to the Nov. 10 and 11 weekend.

Some of these mainland tourists switched to Sunny Bay, Discovery Bay, Tsing Yi and Tsuen Wan.

Still, the huge influx of tourists from across the border has taken a heavy toll on the quality of everyday life of Hong Kong citizens.

Not only are traditional tourist areas such as the Yau Tsim Mong District and Causeway Bay routinely overrun with mainland visitors with their stuffed and bulky rolling suitcases on weekdays and weekends alike, some middle-class residential areas like the South Horizons in Ap Lei Chau and the Grand Waterfront in To Kwa Wan are now also swamped by mainlanders snapping up daily necessities in the local shopping malls.

Dismayed at the massive invasion of mainland tourists into their neighborhoods, some residents in these areas even took to the streets to voice their anger.

Suffice it to say that today the entire city has been flooded with mainland visitors to such an extent that there is basically nowhere else within the territory to divert them.

Over the years, whenever the government was boasting about any major cross-border infrastructure project, it would always highlight the projected convenience and economic benefits for the people of Hong Kong.

But the harsh truth is that what these major cross-border infrastructures like the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) and the HZMB have brought upon the city is a massive and "unbearable" influx of mainland tourists.

The overcrowding problem across the city will go from bad to worse once the Liantang/Heung Yuen Wai Boundary Control Point comes into service.

Hong Kong’s zero tax on imported goods and the guaranteed authenticity of the consumer products available in the city's retail stores have, unfortunately, become a fundamental reason why hordes of mainlanders flock to the city every day to scramble for both daily necessities and luxury goods.

And communities near the border checkpoints have taken the brunt of the massive invasion of mainland visitors over the years.

To put it more vividly, the sheer number of inbound mainland tourists is like a waterfall, while Hong Kong is only a small drinking glass.

Given this situation, the Hong Kong government must immediately start managing the number of inbound mainland tourists and fully assess the impact of over-tourism on the city, rather than just keep on pleasing the mainland visitors.

Steps need to be taken if the tourism industry is to co-exist with the society in the long run.

In order to get to the root of the problem, it's time to put a cap on the inbound tourist numbers, and replace the current Individual Visit Endorsements for Shenzhen permanent residents with a "one trip per six months" permit

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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