Mainland China and Hong Kong must work together to deal with crush of visitors

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 March, 2014, 4:26am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 March, 2014, 6:32am

Tourism is of crucial importance to Hong Kong's economy, yet the growing love-hate relationship with visitors from the mainland would seem to indicate otherwise. The pressures on transport, shopping districts and everyday necessities is such that tolerance is slowly giving way to protest. Government projections that the number of visitors will rise from 54 million last year to 100 million in 2023 have been met with alarm. It is therefore good that National People's Congress Standing Committee chairman Zhang Dejiang has raised the issue.

In the latest protest last weekend, dozens of people marched in Mong Kok telling Putonghua-speaking shoppers to stay at home. There was open hostility, but not the violence of a small demonstration last month in Tsim Sha Tsui that caught Beijing's attention. The concern raised by officials was understandable; hate speech and provocative actions are at no time acceptable. Condemning unruly behaviour does nothing to allay the concerns of residents, though.

Zhang told local delegates to the annual session of the NPC that mainland and Hong Kong officials should jointly look into the issue of tourism. This would be a wise move; while tourism is a matter for Hong Kong, it is mainland rules that determine who can visit our city and how often. Close cross-border co-operation is a necessary aspect of ensuring the flow of visitors from our most important market is smooth and manageable. There would be less chance of being caught off guard by shifts in policy, and immigration authorities, product suppliers and transport companies would be better prepared.

Suggestions that our city can cope with the rising tide of tourists sparked the protests. With rail services on many routes near capacity, shopping areas packed at peak times and locals scrambling with visitors for popular products, tolerance is already wearing thin. The idea that numbers could double is unacceptable to some residents. But as small as our city may be, estimating arrival figures is tricky, even futile; there are unpredictable factors when it comes to the leisure, recreation and shopping habits of a particular demographic.

Authorities should co-ordinate and if needed, fine-tune tourism policies. Hong Kong has benefitted enormously from mainland tourism, the individual visitor scheme alone bringing in HK$26 billion in 2012. Given the benefits, we should be patient and tolerant. We should have faith in the free market.