Scapegoat guide couldn't possibly harm our reputation for tourism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 August, 2010, 12:00am

Pilloried on websites and in media across the mainland and Hong Kong, accused of wrecking the city's reputation as a tourism destination and afraid to show her face in public for two weeks, the guide caught on video berating tourists for not spending enough finally stood up yesterday and said 'sorry'.

SCMP, July 28

That's all she needs to say and only for being rude to some silly tourists who thought that money grows on trees.

She certainly does not need to say so for wrecking Hong Kong's reputation as a tourism destination. It hasn't been wrecked. It has only been confirmed.

What Hong Kong has in tourism is a lobby of greedy hoteliers, shopkeepers, airline operators and affiliated hangers-on who gouge every cent they can get from visitors to this town.

And what they can't gouge from the visitors they gouge from our government in the form of concessions and promotions that are paid for by the public purse, all on the pretext of supporting a key industry when the contribution from this industry to our economy is actually tiny.

Just what would any of these hotelkeepers say if the shoe were on the other foot and, instead of being guaranteed payment for hotel rooms, they had to beg for it when the guests checked out? Would they be happy with a few coins scattered at their feet? Wouldn't they let loose a few choice words so that the guests might know what they thought of them?

Yet this is the lot of a tour guide escorting tourists from the mainland through this town. I don't know how much the tourists in question here paid for their multi-day trip but it was probably only a few hundred dollars and most of that went to the agent who sold them the trip.

The only way that a tour guide who takes such people around this town is then able to make a living from the trade is from tips and from commissions paid by shops on sales to members of the tour.

The tourists on this particular tour must have known it, too. They had been told they would be taken to see the sights on the first day and on the second day they would be taken shopping. They had no complaints about the sights, but on the second day they suddenly developed indignation that they should be asked to top up the paltry fee they had paid with some of that shopping.

And before tourism board chairman James Tien Pei-chun has anything to say about this, perhaps he might tell us if he can speak from experience. His family made its money from renting out garment quotas gifted to Hong Kong by an international trade agreement. What does he know of the strains that plague a tour guide's life?

Why don't we ask some of our hotels to top up the income of tour guides? Without the guided tours the tourists might not have come to stay in their hotels. Why do all these people at the top of the industry, who keep their wallets so tightly shut, open their mouths so wide to blame the poorest paid members of the industry for practices in which they are all complicit?

Let us also say in defence of this tour guide who has been made a scapegoat for the industry that she could quite reasonably have expected her lot of tourists to spend heavily in shops.

It is why mainland tourists come to Hong Kong. As the chart below shows, shopping expenditure here by mainland visitors staying at least one night has risen over the last four years from less than HK$3,000 per person to more than HK$5,000. The tour guide was unhappy that her bunch had spent only HK$500 per person. I think she had a point.

The table shows you how overwhelming that shopping component is at 76.3 per cent of total mainland visitor expenditure last year. But look at how little these people pay for their tours, 0.47 per cent of the total spending, only HK$28 per person, and remember that the tour guides get only a fraction of even this.

I smell a sour reek of hypocrisy in the wind again.