Cathay Pacific

Tourism undeserving of rescue money it seeks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 1998, 12:00am

There has been yet another call for the Government to put more effort into the local tourist business, this time from Cathay Pacific chairman Peter Sutch.

Speaking as chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, he said the Government should give tourism a higher priority in its long-term economic strategy and appoint a director of tourism to cut through red tape on tourist projects.

Let's review a few facts here. As the first chart shows, tourist arrivals on a six-month average basis are still down more than 20 per cent from a year before. The tourist business has never had such a shock. Cathay Pacific is certainly suffering.

But the chart also shows that tourist arrivals in the rest of Asia are way down. It is not as bad as in Hong Kong but then Hong Kong has chosen to maintain its currency peg to the strong US dollar while other Asian currencies have collapsed.

Who can blame visitors if they find this makes Hong Kong expensive? Does Mr Sutch want to abandon the peg? Meanwhile, as the second chart shows, the number of resident departures from Hong Kong is rising at a near record rate. Since the beginning of the year there have been five times as many residents going on trips to the mainland and abroad as there have been visitors coming in.

In other words, the Hong Kong economy takes a much bigger hit on its own people leaving than on visitors not coming.

And why should they come? What do we have to offer them? Have you ever been to see that favourite stop for Japanese tourists, Tiger Balm Gardens? Don't go. The only memorable thing about it was some hideously gruesome reliefs depicting torture scenes from Chinese myths. Maybe they have been torn down now. They should be.

There is not much more to say for the fake temple on Repulse Bay beach where the tourists buses are also jammed after they have clogged Repulse Bay Road to inform the passengers that Cheng Yu-tung's house was once featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. And as for the view from The Peak, how much of it can you see these days with air pollution what it is? Meanwhile, the real beauty spots in the New Territories go unmentioned. If they are not destroyed like Tung Chung and Chek Lap Kok then this would make it easier to bring in visitors who now do not want to come.

And as for the shopping, how much does the economy benefit when foreigners buy foreign goods from foreign-owned shops and only the pittance wages for the shop attendants stay in Hong Kong? Why should any of my tax money go to helping hotels make profits which stay with their foreign-owned management companies and local property tycoons who have already gorged themselves for untold years on huge development margins. How much did Cathay Pacific give me when it was making more than $2 billion a year? This tourism business needs a complete rethink. Until it gets one the government would be ill advised to funnel more money into it. Tell them no, Mr Tung.