We must brush up our tourism act
Backpackers, budget travellers - call them what you will - can be found in every part of the world. Hong Kong, being a major gateway to China and Asia, would presumably be getting its fairer-than-usual share. But despite a global boom in the sector, we do not seem to be benefiting. The Youth Hostels Association, favoured elsewhere by those travelling on a shoestring, is scaling back its operations rather than expanding them. Since May, four of the non-profit association's seven hostels have been closing for three days each week. A combination of a lack of visitors, either backpackers of all ages or school and community groups, and introduction of the HK$28-an-hour minimum wage have been blamed.
As a financially self-sustaining operation, it claims there is little else that can be done. Lawmakers do not find the situation satisfactory: the government assigned the sites for the hostels at a nominal fee and believes they should be used to their fullest potential.
That is a reasonable expectation; public resources of all kinds are in short supply and should never at any time lie idle. The association has to try to find more donors and people to use its dormitories and rooms. That requires marketing expertise and increasing awareness of what it has to offer. With hostels in some of the most spectacular parts of our city - granted, most in remote places - and beds a fraction of the cost of hotels and guest houses, the challenge should not be insurmountable.
The association's English-language website is not easy to find, nor the most user-friendly; making it more accessible and appealing to an international market is a basic starting point. But Hong Kong tourism authorities could also help by making it clear that it is not just visitors with fat wallets who are welcome.
Travellers come with all types of budgets and expectations and we should be catering for them all. Our city easily provides the experiences that are sought after; we have to ensure that we can make them available to all-comers.