• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:56pm
PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 1:38am

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

BIO

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London. Aside from being a South China Morning Post columnist he also hosts ATV’s Newsline show, a radio show and writes for two Chinese-language publications. He has published a number of books on politics which contain English and Chinese versions.
 

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

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15

This article is now closed to comments

virokick
Good job Michael. We must restrict tourist numbers because we want that to happen. Doomsday scaremongering is insulting the intelligence of Hong Kong people.
syn
I agree on this one. It should also be clear that the habits and quality of the visitors is way secondary to the problem of the sheer number of physical bodies in the space that are making some areas difficult to walk around or shop in caused by the non-regulation on tourism. Also, I may be mistaken but that 5% that's usually waved around is gross income. If we break down to net income after distributing the money to rental rates, the actual owners of the brands themselves (many European or back to the mainland), and how much is really being put back into the local economy through wages? I can bet that those salespeople are not shopping in the same kind of stores they work in.
53e4c087-7564-4e13-8ee4-74210a320969
"Past spending was buoyed by corrupt money".
It's amazing how little this point has been made in HK so far. Bernard Chan made it in a column on Friday, but beyond that nothing.
Is corruption already so widely accepted in HK business circles? It certainly seems so, from the lack of reaction - it is as if nobody cares. I would not be surprised if we next hear some demands for 'compensation' for stemming the flow of corrupt money.
No Michael, you are not discriminating against the Mainlanders or being anti-China. You are just asking a very good question about ethics. Fortunately China is more than corruption and quick money. It's only in HK that some seem to reach that conclusion in their haste to make some easy money.
It may actually tell us more about HK, which is supposed to be a state of law, than it tells us about China.
kctony
While the business sector is yelling for patriotism they are making a killing out of unpatriotic acts of our mainland cousins......buying everything that is not Chinese.
pjp
Good article Michael. It is astounding to think that the degradation to our way of life on such a massive scale over the past 10 years accounts for less than 5% of the economy. You would think it was >50% based on all the efforts and resources the Govt puts in, which to call a spade a spade, only benefits a handful of tycoon families.
giannitotaro
most of what Mr. Chugani calls foreign-owned brand-name stores are not actually owned by the brands - they are owned and run by local franchise partners and these are of course owned by the same people companies that run and owned everything else around here.
williamwlcheng
many of these visitors are only doing economic arbitrage to profit by resale in mainland. They are bootleggers and should be discouraged.
chaz_hen
I'm gonna bet a large number of the entrants on multiple entry, long stay permits are buoying HK's vibrant prostitution industry as well.
williechow
That's the problem of having lived under colonial rule. People don't know much about patriotism. Some think that patriotic towards China only involves buying Chinese goods.
53f5564d-0a38-495f-a8da-08eb0a3209ca
I couldn't agree with Michael's argument more. As I take train from Hung Hom to Sheungshui every day after work, I have to compete with mainland tourists for train seat, toilet and tolerate their loud voices, and when I finally arrive in Sheungshui, I have to compete for space to move as Sheungshui is always crowded with parallel good traders and their large suitcases. It is imperative for the government to control the no. of tourists visiting HK to restore the peace of life for ordinary hongkongers.
One one hand there is the quantity issue, on the other there is also the manners issue. I am from mainland China but that does not mean my sympathy is always with mainland Chinese. More than once did I feel embarrassed /ashamed by my home countrymen's inappropriate behaviour in public places. Just as my hong kong colleagues are embarrassed by some hongkongers' behaviour when in Japan. Many mainland tourists haven't grown smart enough to follow the golden tourist rule:"when in rome, do as romans do." they speak loudly in trains, don't follow the queues to the bus, squeeze seats etc. Will they learn how to behave as time goes by?
This morning when I took bus from sheungshui to central, a middle-aged man sitting next to me took out a pc of bread and started munching! he is definitely hongkonger and old enough to know the local rule that eating on the bus is prohibited. I am increasingly saddened by some folk's ignorance of rules and principles in public places. what's wrong?!

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