• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:56pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Limiting mainland visitors counters Hong Kong's open doors policy

Shirley Yuen says discouraging mainland visitors constitutes trade protectionism and discrimination, which could damage Hong Kong's economy and its international standing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 4:41am

Few places in the world are so confident and so well positioned for the future as to be able to seriously consider deliberately damaging nearly 5 per cent of the economy. Yet, that is what we face when we contemplate openly discriminating against certain tourists, specifically those coming here on the individual visit scheme.

The government has said it is considering public views on whether to lower traveller numbers amid concerns that the rapid influx of mainland visitors has exceeded the city's handling capacity.

It isn't in our nature to deny people access to our markets, and certainly it would be dangerous if others decided we were not welcome in theirs. The Hong Kong "brand" as a free port is special, and we should be enhancing rather than devaluing it.

Turning away visitors sends the wrong message, particularly to the international community. We should work to increase the draw of our real tourist attractions, so as to encourage more people to stay an extra day.

It is worth noting that the number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong during the Dragon Boat Festival in early June dropped 2.5 per cent, the first decline in five years and a reversal of the recent trend of 20 per cent rises. In four out of the first five months of this year, retail sales fell. This is the first prolonged slump in this sector in five years.

This time, however, the fault is partly our own. Once visitors turn away, it will take a long time to attract them back again. Therefore, any change in the individual visit scheme should be treated with the utmost caution.

Tourism is one of our pillar industries, supported by a dedicated tourism board. Closing our market to one particular segment is a form of trade protectionism, as well as discrimination. If we deliberately degrade our tourism sector, what will replace it?

If we no longer want these jobs, what kind of jobs do we want, and how much are we going to invest to create them? Do we really want to punish our most important trade and investment partner?

We are in danger of losing these customers to neighbours such as South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia where substantial investment is being made in tourism facilities, new visitor markets are being welcomed with open arms and large-scale marketing campaigns to attract tourists from the mainland are part of a broad strategy.

Southern Weekly recently ran a poll that found one-third of mainlanders surveyed did not want to visit Hong Kong and about 70 per cent had no plan to visit within a year. Of those who did not want to come, 25 per cent were afraid of discrimination.

Do we really want to implement restrictions that may be interpreted as a sign that Hong Kong harbours resentment against mainlanders? I think not.

The tens of millions of day trippers are here to buy products they can trust, at prices they like. For those simply seeking to avoid paying mainland taxes, the right solution is greater diligence on the part of mainland customs authorities. Similar arrangements should be in place for mail orders and courier items. These arrangements, however, would have to be pursued by mainland authorities.

Alternatively, shopping centres specifically catering to short-term visitors might be located closer to the border crossings, much as Lo Wu Commercial City caters to Hong Kong shoppers. But, things are not as clear cut as they might seem at first. Visitors are not only tourists who congregate in shopping areas. Many visitors are business people who also shop whilst they are in Hong Kong.

We need to balance the needs of tourists and residents, against the contribution of retail and tourism. For instance, in response to the rapid rise in individual visit scheme tourists, the retail market has invested in drug stores, fashion shops and jewellery stores to meet the demand for medicine, personal care products, baby formula products, cosmetics, clothing and jewellery. The competing demand for these products as well as the loss of other types of stores may have caused inconvenience to the daily lives of some Hong Kong residents.

But we should distinguish between mainland tourists and day-trippers, as the reasons for their visits and the impacts they have on local residents are quite different. The crowds on public transport and at boundary crossings, shortages and inflated prices of milk powder and other popular products, together with other social issues rooted in cultural differences and misunderstandings, have resulted in the adverse sentiments against mainland visitors.

The government should form a task force comprising representatives from the tourism industry, retailers, hoteliers, property developers, major-attraction operators and the MTR to devise strategies to promote and reinforce the traditional tourist-friendly attitude among our front-line service staff. As with so many kinds of discrimination, we need to educate the general public so as to ultimately reverse this harmful negative sentiment.

Before we make a major mistake, possibly killing off the most important counter-cyclical sector of our economy, we need to think very carefully. The government's role is to promote and protect market access, not restrict it.

As with all major policy decisions, the government should first conduct an in-depth economic impact assessment. Stakeholders need to be consulted, including those who feel they are harmed by tourism. Only then can we make an informed decision free of ugly, dangerous discrimination.

Shirley Yuen is CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce

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This article is now closed to comments

Dao-Phooy
Hello Ms Yuen, even Beijing concedes there are too many visitors and that numbers need to be reviewed. The luxury goods sector is a victim of its own greed and over-expansion as well as the cosmetic shops and so-called pharmacies. We don't want to end up like Gulangyu Island where it was standing room only when it was totally swamped over Golden Week.
johnyuan
(As with all major policy decisions, the government should first conduct an in-depth economic impact assessment. Stakeholders need to be consulted, including those who feel they are harmed by tourism. Only then can we make an informed decision free of ugly, dangerous discrimination.)
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The CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce unlike those of other Chamber of Commerce is a frequent writer to SCMP. Shirley Yuen’s articles have been freely expressing the exclusive interest of her members.
.
I doubt she has ever run a company. She got her current position purely because the members of the General Chamber of Commerce believe she has insider connection with government officials of which she once was.
.
Her frequent writing openly in defense of the Chamber’s interest is serving as a lobbyist in line of her original job’s objective. But largely it also proves close door meetings with officials of current Administration can’t be had really. She has long past her old credential which the Chamber once believed in. She turns to SCMP to reach the government nowadays.
.
I advise Shirley Yuen should make herself more useful. Resign from her current post and stop sending articles which are shamelessly shallow that ill-serving Hong Kong and the Chamber alike.
JC
"Few places in the world are so confident and so well positioned for the future as to be able to seriously consider deliberately damaging nearly 5 per cent of the economy".
After reading the whole article, it is plain obvious that the writer is far from confident about HK's position and prospects in the world, just filled with false bravado and false pride
What a load of BS!
cfj
And who is going to be chosen for a rebuttal of this r******, - paragraph by paragraph? I just wonder how many times Ms Yuen even crosses the 'boundary' or has ridden on public transport - let's imagine, in one month ? Okay, make it a year, just for safety ..... double figures ?
Personally, I'd like to see Ms Yuen taking up matters like exorbitant import taxes that cause this daily mayhem across our boundaries. And whilst she's at it, show concern about food safety so that both HK and the mainland can bring pressure where it's most effective - in Beijing - together! Yeah, just another impossible dream!
pangrachel
Only if the head of the HK General Chamber of Commerce commutes to work by MTR instead of being driven around by her chauffer...how about SCMP invites her to travel to work by MTR for a month (feature her MTR journey in photo or video) and then asks her for her valuable opinion again?
ssslmcs01
Personally, I'll revert to the position, who has benefited from the economic boost that these visitors have brought to Hong Kong? The developers, the business tycoons. What have they done for the average Hongkonger, pushed prices so high that the average person can no longer maintain their standard of living, many have had a significant decrease in their standard of living. Not to mention the overcrowding of pubic transportation and shopping centers full of inconsiderate people pulling suitcases behind them running over your feet or even tripping people.
jnwilson@utas.edu.au
As an outsider to Hong Kong and to China, but also having lived in the PRC and visited HK, my view is that although there are some practical issues with large numbers of visitors from the PRC, it really is important for PRC Chinese to see what HK really is and to feel what HK is and this seeing and feeling of Hong Kong can improve China in enormous ways. So there should really be no limits on visitors in my personal opinion. And I've observed PRC people demonstrating impeccable behaviour and I'm very confident that Hong Kong culture and values are strong enough to sustain large numbers of PRC Chinese and benefit them in very real and important and measurable ways.
nahtk
She is only a former senior Administrative Officer of the government, without any concrete experience in all sectors except the bureaucratic structure that make things dragging on and on without solution. They only acquire good English communication skills but totally lack common senses and expertise in all areas. No wonder what she wrote is so senseless.
BoSee
Shirley Yuen, you spout some s**t.
manishaharjani@gmail.com
Seriously a decrease of 5% in tourist (mainlanders) wont make such a drastic affect on our economy except that now we will hv more space to walk on the streets of hk and not hv to worry about constantly bumping into people.
One third wish not to come to HK that still leaves a hefty two thirds you know, surely if they end up going some,place else eventually those countries too will get fed and enforce stricter rules for them.
All around town all I see are tourist buses waiting making it difficult for taxis and cars to come in.

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