Let's not be duped by fake economic argument for no limits on mainland visitors

Michael Chugani says the facts don't support vested interests' warning of an economic collapse if we try to curb mainland visitor numbers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 1:38am

It is never easy to write about the politically charged issue of mainland visitors. I hesitate every time I do it for fear of being accused of discrimination or, worse still, of being anti-China. But I do not want those with vested interests to dupe Hongkongers with their phony arguments that our economy would collapse without an ever-growing flood of mainlanders.

For the record, tourism makes up less than 5 per cent of our economy. Hong Kong had 54 million visitors last year, 41 million of them mainlanders. They contributed to a tiny percentage of our economy but caused misery to the daily lives of much of the population. Even if we slash the number of visitors by half, the hit to our economy would only be 2 per cent or so. Is our economy so fragile that this would trigger doomsday? Is our government so clueless it can't think of ways to plug this tiny hole?

There is vested-interest opposition even to limiting multiple-entry permit holders in Shenzhen to 52 visits a year. That's a visit a week. How can that possibly not be enough for genuine tourists? Singapore had just 2.3 million mainland Chinese visitors last year but its economy hasn't collapsed. Yet ours will if we cut back even slightly on the 41 million?

Let's ram this fact into the doomsday fearmongers representing big business. Our economy shrank in the second quarter not because of fewer visitors but because they spent less, according to government figures released last week. Arrivals actually increased in the second quarter. What did they spend less on? Luxury goods, sales of which fell due mostly to the mainland crackdown on corruption.

Past spending was buoyed by corrupt money, which went into foreign-owned brand-name stores and jewellery shops owned by our tycoons. Is that the kind of money we want to prop up our economy? After the government figures came out, some lawmakers representing the business sector demanded no scaling back of visitors while others demanded an increase to make up for their lower spending.

So we want more and more to come because they are spending less and less.

What sickens me most about these fearmongers is that they focus only on the economic aspect without giving a damn that the flood has affected the quality of life of ordinary Hongkongers.

They use the fake argument that no place restricts the number of tourists. Let's get the record straight. Most places do, with their visa system. The bulk of mainland visitors who come here do not qualify to enter places like the US, Japan and Europe, which grant visas only to genuine tourists with proven assets.

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee says we should not cut visitor numbers just to appease the small "anti-locusts" crowd. Most Hongkongers detest this group's appalling tactics. But a cutback is not just to appease this group. It is to appease a majority of Hongkongers fed up with having to compete with mainland visitors for everything. Surely, as a legislator, Ip should have a good enough grasp of public sentiment to know this.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com