• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 5:40am
PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 2:10am

Hong Kong is more than a grocery store for mainland Chinese visitors

Michael Chugani says the devastating impact of ever more mainland visitors on our quality of life must lead us to rethink our welcome


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.

Friends of a friend visited from Shenzhen last Saturday. I asked them why they looked so cross. They explained it had taken them almost two hours to pass through immigration at the Lo Wu border. I told them such long waits are normal at weekends. They told me of impatient visitors yelling abusive language at Hong Kong border officials. I told them that's normal too; I've seen it myself.

They wanted to go shopping in Mong Kok. If you haven't been, don't, unless you enjoy fighting thick crowds. The place swarms with mainland tourists packing everything from Chinese medicine and baby milk powder to toothpaste into their oversized cases.

A day earlier, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung dropped the bombshell that visitor numbers would jump from last year's 54.3 million to 70 million in three years, the bulk of whom will be mainlanders. This would climb to 100 million by 2023. The commerce chief thinks Hong Kong can handle it. Either he hasn't been to Mong Kok or Lo Wu, or he's bonkers.

To justify not imposing a limit on visitors, So used the stale argument that mainland tourists contribute hugely to our economy, providing 230,000 jobs.

Here's what I want to ask So: how many of those holding these wonderful jobs qualify for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's welfare handouts for the working poor? Quite a lot, I suspect. They're dead-end retail sector jobs that pay far less than Hong Kong's median monthly household income of HK$20,700. The only people profiting are the owners of cosmetics stores and luxury brand shops.

To further justify not capping visitor numbers, So said that, as a free port, Hong Kong could not and should not set a limit. Wrong. All free ports set a limit through visa control. Most countries grant visas only to genuine tourists with financial means. The bulk of the mainlanders who come here to buy baby milk powder or Chinese medicine would not qualify for US or Japanese tourist visas.

But Hong Kong does not issue visas to mainland visitors. They come with mainland travel documents and are allowed in, no questions asked.

OK, Hong Kong is part of China. But then why have immigration control at all? The truth is that most mainlanders who come are not real tourists. They are grocery shoppers. Hongkongers have to compete with them not only for daily necessities but also for space on the MTR, in restaurants and shopping malls.

If So and other policymakers abandoned their chauffeur-driven cars and sampled everyday life in Mong Kok, cha chaan teng (tea restaurant), or the overpacked MTR, maybe they would understand we are already overflowing with visitors. Maybe they would see the angry frustration bubbling among Hongkongers who must wait for four MTR trains before they can board.

To say we could handle 100 million tourists who create dead-end jobs is plain loony. Shouldn't we aim higher than creating jobs to sell fish balls in Mong Kok or cosmetics in Causeway Bay? But it's no point saying all this to our officials. They live in a different world with their iron rice bowls.

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


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This article is now closed to comments

Here's a suggestion: require all govt employees from the CE on down to take public transit when traveling as part of their job function. Things would change quickly.
Michael, hk is like a dieting company can't grow profit margin (GDP per capita) but just trying to grow the total sales by " volume". That's why local government and business people are pushing for "volume" so they can make more money. As I said before, improving "profit margin" or GDP per capita" requiring long term invetsment that none of them want to commit to. This way of increasing the "top line" is going to hurt all local people but will profit big landlords and government as for them "volume" is great! Hk is going to be a very boring city with only drug stores, jewelry stores etc....
John Adams
"Either he hasn't been to Mong Kok or Lo Wu, or he's bonkers."
All so very VERY true ( and I suspect the correct answer is 'all three')
The real answer, which I see from other articles and news reports is already being considered from 'above', is to to set up shopping centers for Mainland "grocery-shopper-tourists" very close to the borders, which includes our end of the Zhuhai bridge. .
The lower rents in the NT should ensure lower prices than Mongkok or Causeway Bay .
HK needs to accept the reality that (1) we cannot restrict the number of mainlanders coming in and (2) most come here to buy daily consummables and (3) many have no interest in exploring other areas of HK.
Working on these 3 conditions, the wise thing to do would be to herd these visitors to some place out of the way and let them buy to their hearts' content.
A vast shopping centre in the Lok Ma Chau loop would just about please everyone (well, maybe not those developers sitting on land hoping to build expensive villas for the mainlanders.).
If private developers would not build it, then let the government build it.
When the day comes that the mainland shoppers find it safe to buy in PRC again, then we can convert the shopping center to government offices and house some civil servants there.
"The truth is that most mainlanders who come are not real tourists. They are grocery shoppers."
In that case, the best thing to do is to have a massive "grocery shop" near the border, instead of shutting out those "visitors" and the business opportunity. This sounds like the north east development plan the government is proposing.
they come to buy genuine quality legal products in HK that does not exist in China...they are left with no choice


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