Island hostels appeal for lower fees
Alex Lo and Patsy Moy
Hostel operators on outlying islands have asked the Government to lower the new annual licence fee, which is 10 times higher than they used to pay.
They say the heavy increase threatens to put them out of business.
The new mimimum fee is about $3,000, but increases with the number of rooms a hostel rents out, regardless of floor size. Most hostels paid about $300 a year under the conditional licences granted previously.
All 120 hostel operators with conditional licences must obtain full licences by the end of the year.
Andes Au Oi-ling deputy chairwoman of the newly formed Islands District Travel Association, which represents the group, said business had been hit badly by the economic downturn, tourist attractions in Shenzhen and media reports of suicides in some hostels last year.
'People commit suicide and there are murders everywhere in Hong Kong but the press concentrated on those in island hostels,' Ms Au said. 'Most of us only have customers at weekends. Most lose money and a few lucky ones break even. If we have to pay high fees, we might as well shut down the business.'
She said most members worked out of three-storey houses, which she said had been grouped unfairly with hotels and motels in high-rise buildings in urban areas and had to follow similar fire, electricity and structural safety laws. Under the new fee structure, a one-floor hostel with three rooms or less will pay about $3,000, but hostels with three floors, or nine to 12 rooms, face an annual fee of more than $7,000.
The Home Affairs Department, whose licensing office covers the hostels, said it recognised the difference between island hostels and guesthouses in urban areas and would relax some safety restrictions.
A department spokeswoman said the fees had been set and officials were unlikely to agree to lower them. However, negotiations would continue. 'We have given plenty of time to the hostels to improve and upgrade their facilities,' she said.
Island District Council chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung warned that the tourist industry on outlying islands could be affected if the motels went under or were forced to raise charges.