Hong Kong should expand facilities to deal with surge in visitor arrivals
People can be excused for doubting that a small city like Hong Kong could play host to 100 million visitors a year. But this is the number that government officials are talking about. According to the official estimates, the number of visitors per year will increase from the 54 million last year to 70 million in 2017. By 2023, the number is expected to hit 100 million. That means an additional 274,000 people will be running around in our city every day, using the public transport network, dining in restaurants or shopping.
For those who find Hong Kong is already overrun by tourists, in particular those from the mainland, they have every right to be concerned. Whether there is still room to take in more visitors is open to debate. A series of reports in this newspaper suggest the city's transport, immigration and shopping facilities are already stretched to the limit.
Admittedly, the economy has benefited since mainlanders have been allowed to travel to the city under the individual visitor scheme that was set up in 2003. From jewellery stores and high-end restaurants to toiletries and infant milk formula, our cash-rich neighbours are now the economic lifeline of our tourism, retail and catering sectors. But they also bring undesirable outcomes. Prices surge as a result. Shopping malls and public transport are swarming with travellers, whose behaviour may upset locals and arouse tension from time to time. If the prevailing situation is any reference, there is reason to believe that a further increase in the number of tourists will bring more problems.
While the influx creates extra burdens, shutting tourists out is not an option. In the increasingly competitive world of tourism, every city wants a bigger share of the market. Official figures put the economic benefits brought by the individual visitor scheme at HK$26 billion in 2012.
Imposing a cap on arrivals is therefore unwise and unnecessary. Nor should the negative impact brought by the tourism boom be blown out of proportion. Hong Kong is not the only place overrun by tourists. As we enjoy the economic benefits, we should be prepared for the undesirable outcomes. The invisible hand of the free market will strike the right balance. Tourists will go elsewhere if we cannot offer what they want. In the meantime, efforts should be made to expand our capacity. Building more tourist facilities and spreading shoppers to less busy districts would be a good start.