Solution to shortfall in tourist numbers is right under our noses
'... the major functions of the HKTB (Hong Kong Tourism Board) are to promote Hong Kong globally and increase the contribution of tourism industry to Hong Kong's economy. Tourism development facilitates the growth of a considerable number of economic sectors, for example ...'
Stephen Ip Shu-kwan,
Secretary for Economic Development and Labour
AND BLAH-BLAH-ba-ba-ba-blaaah-blaaaah onwards because legislator Sin Chung-kai just happened to have put one and one together and arrived at a result of two.
Given, said Mr Sin, that the tourism board got things woefully wrong in its forecast for tourist arrivals last year, might it not be a good idea to trim back the tourism board's budget to reflect the fact that arrivals are not up to expectations? Would that not be prudent financial management?
Seems like good thinking to me. The red line at the right of the first chart shows you what the board had forecast - 27 million arrivals in 2006, which would have been 3.64 million more than in 2005. What it got was 1.89 million more, barely half as much as it expected. Someone here obviously does not have his or her finger on the pulse of the tourism business.
The point is that in recent years we have upped our subvention of this board to over the HK$600 million a year level. We have also given it an additional HK$470 million for this year and last. If we are not getting the expected bang for our buck then perhaps we should put our buck where we can get more bang.
Mr Ip's response to this was that we are actually getting that bang. Thanks to the emphasis the board has placed on telling visitors to splurge their money, total visitor spending is at expected levels even if visitor arrivals are not.
Perhaps, but what was all this then about showing mainland visitors the sights of Hong Kong rather than forcing them into the shops? If the tourism board wants to tell visitors to shop, shop, shop, why do we give trouble to our tour operators for doing so too?
Never mind. I have a better idea for increasing 'the contribution of tourism industry to Hong Kong's economy'.
We travel a two-way street here. The contribution of tourism to our economy is the sum of what foreign tourists spend here less what Hong Kong tourists spend abroad. The tourism board may not look at things this way but Mr Ip was talking of the economy and this is the way things are counted up when you talk the economy. Now look at the second chart. We have only just got back to a positive balance in tourism after many years of being deeply negative.
Hong Kong may set records within Asia for number of tourist arrivals but it has many more resident departures, particularly when times turn bad.
So what I would do is refocus the tourism board. Instead of having it pitch outsiders to come here, we should have it tell Hong Kong people to stay at home. If this is such a great place to shop it must be so for local shoppers too. Why not spend some money to remind them of it? The economic contribution could be enormous, more than we could get from attracting tourists here.
I am not being entirely facetious. Look at Mr Ip's list of the 'considerable number of economic sectors' that benefit from tourism and what you get is the usual clutch of narrow-based lobby groups that very much appreciate it when we spend money on them but don't give us much in return.
Airlines, hoteliers and shop landlords are not very representative of Hong Kong's overall population but it is they who are the biggest beneficiaries of the tourism board's efforts.
If more Hong Kong people were spending their money at home, however, not only would the benefits be spread more widely but more of the money would stay at home than stays here when it is tourist dollars that are spent.
Yes, I think it's a great idea. Cut the tourism board's budget as it is obviously out of touch with its own market and, if we still want to spend that money, use it to remind Hong Kong people what a wonderful city this is.