Lai See

Hong Kong government's travel alerts are compromised

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 3:58am

We see that the government yesterday issued a black travel alert for Egypt, which means that people should avoid all travel to the country since "the situation continues to deteriorate there".

However, two other countries are already on the black alert list, the Philippines and Syria. So how, we wonder, should we view the addition of Egypt? Is it a situation like the Philippines or should we view the Egyptian situation as being closer to Syria?

The latter is tearing itself apart amid a nasty civil war with a horrendous number of civilian deaths. The Philippines isn't remotely like this. Indeed, tourist numbers for the first half of the year rose 23 per cent. Tourists from the United States were up almost 3 per cent, while the very safety-conscious Japanese grew 7 per cent. The number of tourists from mainland China jumped 32 per cent.

Surely, the Hong Kong government should be sending strenuous messages to these misguided countries warning them their tourists are placing themselves in grave danger. The continued blacklisting of the Philippines because of the hostage deaths in 2010 is plainly stupid and makes a mockery of what is supposed to be a warning of the relative risks of visiting these countries. It remains on the list because the government doesn't have the courage to take it off.

Hong Kong people are obviously paying scant attention to the alert because about 65,700 tourists from the city visited the Philippines in the first half of the year, making it the ninth-largest source of tourists with numbers more or less back to 2010 levels. Maybe the government could put a smiley or an asterisk next to the Philippines' blacklist entry to indicate it's not a serious ranking.


A windy dilemma

The Observatory invariably faces complaints after it raises the No8 signal. It's either too early in going up or coming down or it's too late. But after reflecting on the recent experience of Typhoon Utor, Hong Kong still doesn't seem to have got its typhoon arrangements right.

There seemed to be an unnecessary symmetry to the raising of the No8 signal at 1.40am and its lowering at 1.40pm. People were understandably teed off when many of them had to go into work for a few hours.

But why is it that the city has to come to a grinding halt because winds get up to 100km? People are not in thrall to the weather to the same extent as they were many years ago when the only way to cross the harbour was by boat or when slopes were dangerous and squatter areas were numerous and often precariously positioned. Nowadays there is no need for the stock exchange and business to close when we get 100km winds. Other countries that experience these conditions warn people but carry on as normally as they can.

Obviously, we need the warnings and some transportation may well be disrupted, such as ferries and aircraft, but that in itself is no reason for Hong Kong to shut down. These days, we can tolerate a higher threshold of bad weather. If we assume there are 245 working days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, the half-day lost accounts for 0.2 per cent of the working year in terms of gross domestic product. At current market prices, this works out to be a loss of HK$4.08 billion.


Let them eat and drink

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, "When Hongkongers are tired of food, they are tired of life". We can report that judging from the Food Expo, there is little evidence of this. Quite the opposite. The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai was teeming with people yesterday for the opening day. There was literally something for everybody if you could find it within the melee.

We veered towards some of the drinks stalls where we encountered, among other delights, something called Almond Roca Cream, which was apparently making its first appearance in Hong Kong. This is a joint venture involving the firm that makes Almond Roca chocolate and a winemaker. It's based on the Baileys Irish Cream concept, though it is a good deal less alcoholic at 14 per cent. "This makes it easier to drink," we were told. But for those looking for something stronger, there were plenty of deceptively innocuous-looking bottles of clear liquid.

For those interested in eating, drinking and cooking, this is an absorbing show.


Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to