Blot on tourism image demands firm action
Image is everything when it comes to tourism and perceptions of Hong Kong have taken a knock following media reports on the mainland that shops here have cheated tourists. Every effort has to be taken to correct such views. What form this takes must be quickly determined by tourism authorities and implemented without delay. With claims of jewellery shops selling fake goods and misadvertising their products coming on the heels of controversy over tour groups being pressured to part with their money, damage control is of utmost importance.
Unlike the handling of the tour groups incident, however, the steps taken must be firm; voluntary schemes do not send a clear enough signal that selling fake items or cheating customers will not be tolerated. Some of the suggestions given by officials would appear to point in this direction. Barring unscrupulous retailers from receiving tour groups does not provide sufficient punishment, nor does naming and shaming them by posting their company names at border crossings.
Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun would seem to be on a sounder track with his recommendation yesterday that such people should be banned altogether from the retail industry after a certain number of violations.
His suggestion would involve changing the law, a measure which he pointed out was necessary as it would otherwise be too easy for crooked shopkeepers to simply change the names of their companies and reopen for business. As worthy as this idea may be, though, it is in essence not in line with Hong Kong's free-market policies and even if approved by lawmakers, would take some time to pass through the legislative process.
With Hong Kong's image on the line, this is not a matter to be dealt with through a series of long-winded meetings or a months-long consultative process. The May 'golden week' holiday for the mainland is looming and if we are to achieve the projected targets for tourist arrivals and hotel room occupancy rates, authorities must be seen to be taking decisive action.
Tourism is a key sector of our economy, after all. Last year, the 25.25 million visitors who came to the city - more than half of whom were from the mainland - contributed HK$117 billion to the local coffers.
Much of the revenue from mainland visitors was down to perceptions that the goods sold in shops here are genuine and that their quality can be assured. This has been reinforced by the Travel Industry Council's demerit system, under which retailers found cheating customers will eventually be removed from the list of approved shops for receiving tour groups.
The latest controversy shows that this system alone is insufficient to protect our image as a good place for mainlanders to shop. No matter whether the jewellery stores involved in the controversy are found to be at fault, damage has been done and we must be seen to be putting more stringent protections in place.
Mr Tien and other tourism officials have shown their understanding of the seriousness of the matter through their ordering of investigations and tough statements. The rhetoric must now be backed by equally determined measures to ensure that retailers do not damage our city's reputation.