Hostels' reduced opening linked to minimum wage
The Youth Hostels Association has begun closing four of its seven hostels for three days every week, and says the introduction of the minimum wage is partly to blame.
It also cites a lack of resources and low visitor numbers for the decision to shut the hostels at Pak Sha O, Chek Keng, Ngong Ping and Tai Mo Shan every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless there are group bookings.
But legislators point out the government gave it the sites for hostels for a nominal fee, and says the organisation has used public resources injudiciously. They say they will scrutinise the association's financial standing.
The non-profit organisation, which recently won the right to turn a 1950s Shek Kip Mei complex into a youth hostel as part of a heritage conservation project with the government, said that running the hostels every day of the year is financially unsustainable.
The reduced opening hours have been in force since May 1.
Some employers have been accused of reducing employees' working hours now that they have to pay them a minimum of HK$28 an hour.
An association spokesman, who declined to be named, confirmed that the four hostels are closed from Tuesday to Thursday each week because of poor patronage and the minimum wage.
'It [the minimum wage] was partly the reason. But in fact, some hostels do not even have one person visiting each day during the non-peak season,' the spokesman said.
On a recent Monday afternoon, calls made to its Tai Po and Lantau Island hostels went unanswered.
The spokesman said the organisation had not breached any rules with its decision.
The association, which obtained the right to run the hostels for a nominal fee, is a registered charitable institution exempt from tax under section 88 of the Inland Revenue Ordinance.
It is also a member of Hostelling International, a youth hostel association that operates 4,000 hostels in 80 countries.
Its website says that hostels run by the Youth Hostels Association are open throughout the year.
Angela Spaxman, a hiker who stayed in the association's Chek Keng hostel during the last Christmas holidays, regretted that the hostels had been partially closed.
'It is unfortunate because there are people who want to hike during weekdays,' she said.
She said the hostel was a nice getaway facility.
Legislator Peter Cheung Kwok-che said the association should not close its facilities even if there were financial difficulties. There were other ways to cut costs.
Fellow legislator Tanya Chan said the association should use its facilities better. 'There ought to be a purpose for the land to be given out for a nominal fee. The resources don't seem to be properly used,' she said.
She had worries about the association being able to run the Shek Kip Mei project without problems. That facility is scheduled to open next year.
The association was set up in 1973 with the support of Hong Kong's then governor Murray MacLehose, who established the city's country parks and was himself a keen hiker. Its executive committee is led by former Sun Hung Kai Properties executive director Michael Wong Yick-kam.