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  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 5:25am
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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This article is now closed to comments

Dao-Phooy
The trouble as always is our dysfunctional government. There isn't even any acknowledgement that the projected number of 70 million visitors is a huge cause of concern for local citizens. The Administration simply restates the worn out mantra on 'economic benefits'! Our overpaid Ministers and Mandarins just live in their bubbles - zero initiative from these truly non-policy makers with their A-shaped shoulders. This is another crisis in the making and you guys are just 'fiddling' whilst HK teeters on the edge. Criticism of the demonstrators isn't going to make this issue go away. The serious problem still needs to be tackled. Opinion on the demonstration is clearly divided - so a word of advice to CY, Gregory So, Paul Chan and all the other nonentities who are ministers - there will be no 'consensus' so get your thinking caps on and announce a clear policy to prevent us from being swamped sooner rather than later!
daisann
One of the simplest things that can be done now is to implement a sales tax on high end luxury goods. Most of what the government here terms "tourism" is actually trading, and much of the buying and selling that goes on is about circumventing mainland China's taxes on high end consumer goods. If it costs as much in Hong Kong as in Shanghai to buy a Louis Vuitton bag, then we certainly shall see an immediate drop in the number of mainland "tourists". As an added plus, we might exempt luxury designer goods and fashion that are produced in and by Hong Kongers, thus giving incentive to our local design industry.
321manu
Nice piece. The devil will be in the details of 'flow regulation'. Do you just regulate land crossings, in which case you're effectively discriminating against mainland visitors? Or do you regulate all points of entry? In that case, you almost need some sort of visitor visa system, since a person flying into HK will not react well if they're suddenly told "no vacancy". You would also need to determine how you decide when HK is "full". If it's the store/nightclub analogy, then only when 1 person leaves can another person enter. That could become a logistical disaster at ports of entry. So then it's not just a visa system, but a ticketing/reservation system to guarantee entry into HK upon arrival. The bureaucracy could become nightmarish. Nonetheless, I agree it's a discussion worth having.
hm03
Wow, this is such a sensible piece of opinion, unlike the other opinions that some SCMP commentators have dished out, especially by Alex Lo: ****www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1429880/hongkongers-should-see-bigger-picture-mainland-chinese
lucifer
The "****s" protest by a small group of people in Canton Road last weekend was a response to government inaction. It does not matter what you or anybody else thinks of this, it has been brewing for over two years now and its clear that people are getting upset at the situation. Instead, the government just tell us to brace for even more....this is a government who is unresponsive to its people...then again, what do they care, they are not accountable to us. What is the plan when the shopping sprees all come to an end? Once the entire economy is geared to being a giant mall for Mainlanders, what happens when items sell for the same price in the Mainland, or the economy in the Mainland suffers a crisis? Then what?
Wow, you can write the word locu$t in the article, but not in the comments section...go figure.
oxymoron15
Please Please do NOT impose restrictions to Mainlanders. I implore all bureaucrats who are so fond of building a utopia based on the theory of survival of the fittest. We would love to see all neighborly local stores eradicated and replaced by brand name luxury stores that shine brilliantly with neon lights. Evolution is painful. Sometimes the needs of the few outweight the needs of the many.
We are a hospitable city so lets auction more land to build hotels instead of housing. Their money is vital to businesses and the city welcomes strangers with deep pockets. Educate us to be more tolerant and friendly to tourists even when they are rude and disrespectful because it all comes down to money talks and bullshxt walks.
We should even try to adapt to their customs to make them feel more at home. Pat their shoulders if they desire to be naturalists and refuse to use toilets. Give them a thumbs up gesture when they shout and eat in public transports. Clap your hands if they don't form a queue. Walk the extra mile and give a hand to those who carries heavy boxes of goods across borders. All and all, we are civil and we should walk the walk.
Let's hold hands and sing Kumbaya!
oxymoron15
@artdig18
True. It also took many years for the Europeans to stop burning women accused of practicing witchcraft and years for the American to abolish slavery. The difference is: we learned, excelled and evolved. Even with Moral and National Education introduced in the motherland, people are still stagnant. Should we say, give them another century? :-)
strangefellow
Totally agree with this comment (including the part about Alex Lo)
Artie
Oxymoron I grew up in HK in the70s and 80s and that was exactly how HKers behaved they were rude, disrespectful and queue jumping etc ... no one ever queue up at a bus stop for example it was a free for all ... it took many years to change HK to a more civil place ... I personally would inform any one that is behaving badly and not shy into a corner and suffer in silence.
whymak
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?

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