Control quality and quantity of visitors to lower social costs

May 02, 2019 17:31
The influx of mainland tourists by the hundreds and thousands has turned into an immense nuisance for local residents. Photo: HKEJ

As in previous years, Hong Kong has again witnessed the influx of mainland visitors during the Labor Day Golden Week holiday that started on Wednesday.

Visitors from across the border are flocking not only to traditional tourist spots like Mong Kok, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, but also other areas such as the North District and the northwestern New Territories to snap up daily necessities and food, as well as To Kwa Wan, a favorite stop for mainland tour groups.

What should be a welcome development has become a cause for grave public concern. That's because the influx of tourists by the hundreds and thousands has turned into an immense nuisance for local residents on a daily basis.

Back in December 2013, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) published the Assessment Report on Hong Kong's Capacity to Receive Tourists.

In the report, the government projected that Hong Kong would exceed 70 million inbound tourists in 2017.

However, the report said, as the number of visitor arrivals to Hong Kong is likely to surpass 100 million in 2023 as per estimation, there is a pressing need to enhance the overall ability of our city’s tourism industry to receive inbound tourists.

In my view, the government’s relatively optimistic projections are out of touch with what our fellow citizens are actually going through.

When evaluating a city’s “tourism carrying capacity”, one must take into account not only whether there are sufficient tourist facilities and infrastructure to accommodate them, but also environmental elements such as the implications for the local ecological setting and resources.

The feelings of the local population, as well as socio-economic factors like the state of development of local industries and the level of consumer prices, should also be considered.

The excessive number of visitors has not only affected our social environment, but may also undermine the territory’s appeal to global travelers in the long run, thereby reducing the motivation for them to revisit our city.

Our tourism industry should avoid focusing on pursuing sheer growth in numbers.

Instead, we should also stay focused on enhancing Hong Kong’s overall appeal as a tourism city to international holidaymakers, so as to attract more diversified and high-quality visitors, and to prevent the quality of life of our local citizens from being compromised.

There have been calls for the government to enforce a “triage” mechanism, under which tourists would be diverted into different parts of our city.

However, I don’t think this idea will work.

First, the decision of which places to visit rests entirely with the tourists themselves; the government simply doesn’t have any authority to limit their legal activities in Hong Kong.

Second, diverting tourists to other regions may possibly spread the problem of tourist influx into other previously unaffected areas, thereby causing more tensions and conflicts in society in the long run.

As such, as I have proposed before, the government should, as a short-term measure, crack down on the so-called zero-fare inbound mainland tour groups in order to resolve the issue of tourist overcrowding and boost the proportion of high-spending, overnight visitors.

The administration should also seriously consider imposing arrival tax as a policy tool to adjust the number of inbound visitors.

Imposing an arrival tax can also broaden our city’s tax base for expanding the recurrent income for the treasury of the government and help the government recover part of the costs of running and manning our border facilities.

In my view, the arrival tax can reduce the number of same-day visitors without undermining the overall revenues of our tourism industry.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Member of Legislative Council (Functional Constituency – Accountancy)