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  • Oct 26, 2014
  • Updated: 7:05am
Chinese tourists
CommentInsight & Opinion

Regulating flow of mainland Chinese tourists is only sensible option in short term

Paul Yip says imposing some caps on the overwhelming number of visitors to Hong Kong, most of them mainlanders, makes sense. In fact, some shops and theme parks already set limits

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 5:03am

The 54 million people who visited Hong Kong last year included 41 million from the mainland, about half of whom arrived under the individual visit scheme. Some 10 million of those do not stay overnight, including a significant number of parallel traders who cause considerable inconvenience and disruption to local communities, especially those in the northern districts, as they snap up daily commodities such as milk powder.

The landscape and make-up of shops throughout the city has been distorted to meet the demands of the visitors, at the expense of local residents. It is neither healthy nor sustainable. Some of the local shops and our unique characteristics that appeal to tourists from elsewhere have been disappearing.

Furthermore, we are now told that the number of visitors will even shoot up to 70 million in three years' time and reach 100 million by 2023. With the completion of the high-speed rail link and the Zhuhai bridge, we are looking at even more mainland visitors in the future.

Our capacity for meeting the ever- increasing numbers has been questioned; it is, after all, a population of 1.3 billion versus 7 million. The Hong Kong government has been lagging in accommodating the rapid expansion. Simply, the number of mainland visitors has outgrown our capacity to accommodate them all. And that is bound to create problems: our transport system has become even more congested and our space has been compromised.

The government has been exploring ways to rectify the problem by, for example, making more space and shopping outlets available, especially near the border. However, the problem is here now: officials need to act more swiftly as the situation is nearing breaking point.

We do need new infrastructure to deal with increasing demand. But this will take time. In the meantime, extraordinary measures are called for, specifically to regulate numbers and control the influx of parallel traders.

Regulating the flow is nothing new. Our theme parks, Disneyland and Ocean Park, both implemented measures during the Lunar New Year: they restricted ticket sales to control visitor numbers.

This was a pragmatic approach and there was no element of discrimination. Such a measure certainly upset some people. However, the objective was to ensure the safety and comfort of those already in the parks.

By the same token, regulating the number of visitors to Hong Kong through certain measures, whether it be a land tax or some administrative measures, would be to ensure we are able to provide a quality service. Tourism is, of course, a major source of income for Hong Kong and one advantage we have over mainland cities is in providing a quality service so visitors have a pleasant experience in Hong Kong, rather than having to queue for hours and being ripped off by greedy and irresponsible merchants.

The idea of imposing a levy is worth exploring, with the aim of reducing the number of parallel traders. When the situation improves, the measures can be revisited and amended.

Another good example is how shops selling luxury brands treat customers. Once their shop is full, they ask other potential customers to queue outside and wait their turn. It's all done in a courteous manner. Some people do have to wait for a while and they usually do so without complaint; they are willing to queue because they want to buy something.

At the same time, those already inside are able to enjoy their shopping experience. And that includes store employees who do not become overstretched and are therefore able to provide a good service.

There are concerns that restrictions would make Hong Kong appear unfriendly to visitors. However, if we don't treat them well while they are here, they won't come back. True, some people don't care whether visitors return or not; there are plenty more mainlanders, they say. But our tourism service won't improve if money comes too easily. The best way to make our city a friendly place for all visitors is to focus on providing a quality service. Clearly, we cannot ignore the concerns of locals whose lives are being affected. And while flows of people are healthy and important to the city's development, if things become too crowded, we have no choice but to act.

We can strike a balance: make Hong Kong a liveable place for locals and enjoyable for visitors. The government's concern that any administrative measures would be seen in a negative light on the mainland is well understood. But, ignoring the concerns of locals and the capacity of our city is not a solution; the likelihood of conflict between visitors and locals is bound to increase.

Nevertheless, the "locusts" protest by a small group of people in Canton Road last weekend was unnecessary, destructive and ill-considered. It does not carry the support of the majority and it is certainly not the way to rectify the situation.

Paul Yip is professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong


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Learn from Macau and maybe Venice.
Just want to confirm a few facts from readers commenting on "THEM VS. US."
I used to cringe when my American colleagues complained about fellow HKers jamming exits of elevators and metro trains. HKers, not just Chinese, used to spit in streets. Spittoons were strategically placed in HK eateries, like 陸羽 at 花布街. American friends were equally shaken up by toilet stench at Causeway Bay restaurants as ones in trains between Guangzhou-HK in the 80s.
My Swiss relatives were taken aback by HK diners spitting unsightly chewed out bones onto dinner plates. But Europeans are sophisticated enough to know "good" table manners are culturally relative.
Some HKers are like Pip in Dickens' "Great Expectations." We're ashamed of our cultural origin, just like Pip now in his London dig was repelled by his visiting brother-in-law who had raised him. Worse, HKers resent China's new wealth and their own limited purchasing power, 憎人富貴厭人窮.
Do you disown your parents because of their humble origins and bad manners?
During my childhood, movie theatres like 新世界 at 上環 had no air-conditioning. I recall parents order their children pee on the floor because they didn't want to miss a scene.
At the dome of San Pietro in Rome last year, two Hong Kong girls were screaming at the top of their lungs.
These are the HKers I know then and now. Warts and all, I am proud of you because of our shared culture and above all, our love of parents and family.
Please tell me, who are you without this Chineseness?
Disgusting Racism
It seems like sensible people are in the minority on this site.There are a significant number of HKers who don't even see themselves as Chinese in the first place. No wonder it's so easy for them to shout anti-Chinese racial slurs. It's funny because living overseas, people from Taiwan/HK/Macau/Mainland generally tend to stick together because of our common background. It's really sad that some people in HK have forgotten their own heritage and are basically attacking their own race/nationality.
If CY and the other empty suits who are our overpaid ministers and senior civil servants want to see the end game for a govt. that ignores its citizens, play attention to the situation in Kiev.
Disgusting Racism
Who ever liked this comment is brainless.
If something like that actually happened in Hong Kong, do you actually think the Mainland would just let protestors riot and burn government buildings?
NO, the Mainland would immediately send in the army and the protestors would be crushed.
I doubt any HKer want a repeat of the Tiananmen massacre in their city.
“when shops are full, other potential customers to queue outside”
sounds simple and is easier to expect compliance by mainland visitors
than local abuse hailers
When I try to get off lifts or trains
the exits are often blocked by a wall of people
who are supposed to leave a central passage
for people to get off first
Why not a $500 fine for exit blockers?
Professor Yip, should the same thinking applies to mainland graduate students in hk? Hk is getting a flat GDP per capita and aging population and constrained by land in growing the population, so by theory we should try to increase the output per person. Therefore moving towards a knowledge based economy is critical. But yet in the past 10 years hk graduate students are declining and now over 70% of graduate student in the 8 universities are from mainland and the worst is after they graduate very high percentage are not staying in hk to contribute to hk. Graduate schools are critical for high end industry that's why Silicon Valley is so successful as their resource are continuously supplied by good school in that area. Graduate students are key as they are much stronger in R&D. So, professor Yip, why don't you write something about that?
The complaint that China graduate students crowded out local graduate students looks valid in numbers but behind the number there is a reality that those students qualified or capable for graduate study are not interested to pursue graduate study or simply prefer to study overseas. In fact, non-US graduate students also exceed local graduate students. When HK universities are chasing for higher ranking based on research output, it is of course tempting for the professors to pick up those top 1 % students from China rather than an academically mediocre local student. If the government is not going to do anything to broaden our industry base , lots of subjects without a good or more certain career prospects will continue losing appeals to local top students.
Is this a taboo of the hk universities? I guess so. You guys just care about look good on paper as mainland graduate students are harder worker helping you professors to pump out research paper. Why should you care about whether they will contribute to hk long term? Right? Look at hk, we haven't even get one size able local startup IPO in the past 10 to 20 years particularly in tech....Israel is not much bigger than hk in population, but their tech is great! So if you are leveraging china students but if you are not producing the synergy to hk you are wasting hk resource! Producing nice "paper" publication is not good enough for aging HK...we need real local startup and real IPO to increase the value of the local forms....please think academic hk? Sounds like a successful operation but the patient is dead, sounds familiar?
I have an idea: the entrance fee to Hong Kong will give visitors a hotel voucher and thus only those who do not stay overnight will be deterred.




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