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Chinese tourists
CommentInsight & Opinion

Curbs on mainland tourist numbers may backfire on Hong Kong

Regina Ip says we risk severe economic fallout and damage to our relations with the mainland under a rumoured government proposal to cap the number of visits by Shenzhen residents

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 4:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 8:51am

At the May meeting of the Commission on Strategic Development, the chief executive sparked a firestorm by asking, in the context of discussions on the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong, whether the quota for individual mainland Chinese tourists visiting Hong Kong should be cut by 20 per cent.

The suggestion immediately triggered howls of protest from members representing the retail sector. The following day, news of this possible cut led the shares of publicly listed companies seen to have benefited the most from mainland tourism to drop by 3 to 4 per cent.

For those local people long annoyed by congestion on MTR trains swelled by mainland tourists, or the displacement of popular cha chaan teng by luxury retailers targeting mainland visitors, the news might have brought relief. Finally, good riddance to the "locusts" who benefited only property developers and high-end retailers but skewed our economy, some might think.

The retail, tourism and hotel industries quickly reacted by petitioning the authorities against any cut, citing the importance of mainland tourism to gross domestic product growth.

According to media reports, the government has completed a review of the economic and social impact of mainland tourism and has recommended limiting the multi-entry permits for Shenzhen residents to 52 visits per year. No decision has, however, been taken. The authorities in Beijing, who, under the Basic Law, alone have the power to control entry into Hong Kong as visitors, appear to be hedging their bets, watching which way Hong Kong's economy might go.

Both the chief executive and Beijing appear to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Should the numbers be cut, to appease the "anti-locusts" crowd? Or should they risk a sharp downturn in mainland tourism at a time when Hong Kong's economic growth is heading south, with all that that implies in terms of job losses and a slump in consumption?

A closer look at arrival statistics since the introduction, in 2003, of the individual visitor scheme suggests that mainland tourism has peaked. Visitor arrivals spiked in 2009, after the introduction in April of a scheme allowing qualified residents of Shenzhen to visit on multiple-entry permits.

The relaxation caused mainland arrivals to increase by 26.33 per cent, 23.87 per cent and 24.24 per cent on a year-on-year basis since 2009. But the growth rate slowed to 16.71 per cent last year, and 16 per cent in the first six months of this year.

The slowdown could be attributed to a number of reasons - the economic downturn on the mainland, the anti-corruption drive, the availability of more options for travel for wealthy mainland residents and, above all, the cases of discrimination here which have caused a backlash of animosity against Hong Kong on the mainland.

If the government has indeed recommended cutting back multiple-entry permits for Shenzhen residents to 52 visits per year, it must clearly explain its rationale and policy objectives for such an unprecedented measure.

If the objective is purely to appease the handful of "locust haters" whose behaviour is unbefitting of our civilised, supposedly "first world" city, the government should be held accountable for any negative economic consequences and fallout in terms of relations between mainland residents and Hongkongers.

If the cutback is necessitated purely by constraints in our reception capacity, the government should focus its efforts on overcoming the constraints, not sending negative signals to drive away visitors.

Considering that Hong Kong has failed to restructure its economy since the migration of its manufacturing industries, and that large numbers of its low-skilled workforce are dependent on tourism-related jobs for their livelihood, economically speaking, the government is on weak ground to initiate a drastic cutback in the number of Shenzhen visitors.

A cutback to 52 visits per year is no laughing matter. Based on statistics compiled by the Security Bureau over a five-month survey, 96 per cent of the multiple-entry permit holders from Shenzhen visited Hong Kong once a day, and many were parents of children born in Hong Kong rather than parallel traders. Despite a public perception of mainland visitors making multiple visits to Hong Kong daily, the statistics show that only 1,700 visitors visited Hong Kong twice a day during the survey period; 22 visitors three times a day; and 10 four times a day.

The cutback might deliver a lot more than what some Hongkongers hope for. It could trigger a landslide, as the sense of ingratitude and discrimination sink into the hearts and minds of the mainlanders. Some might never want to come back.

Relaxation of mainland travel arrangements were introduced in 2003 and again in April 2009 in response to our calls for help to boost our economy after the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak and the global financial crisis. If we tell people on the mainland now that we have become so rich (and crowded) that you are no longer needed, what would you think if you were one of the mainlanders?

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a legislator and chair of the New People's Party

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This article is now closed to comments

534486fa-4c10-4df2-9b49-35030a320969
To think HK people hate mainlanders is missing the point. Fact is we hate anyone whom visit our home with bad manners, loud, unruly and at times urinate in public or anywhere the mainlander deem convenient. Simply put, someone comes into your home and spit and smoke and behave like a bunch of wild animal, what would you do dear Regina ?
HK is my home. We welcome visitors with grace and good will. And we expect the same from all visitors.
Please don't ruin my beautiful HK home.
Dai Muff
Reliance on tourism as your main source of income, while you do not develop in other areas, is a recipe for disaster. Ask Greece. And it is made even worse when you rely on a tourism influx that depends solely on the goodwill of one particular government. The idea is not to cut tourists and do nothing. It is to cut tourists and develop in areas that make us more self-reliant.
superdx
When a bowl of wonton noodles costs over $50 (typically $70+ when you include a drink) when just 8 years ago, it cost $20, how can you expect people *not* to be angry at the mainland hordes that buy up ridiculous luxury goods that have no purpose other than to appear rich? Get real. An economic fallout is almost mandatory at this point to bring the price basic necessities down.
sammckhk
Regina has spent too long being driven around in government cars since the early 1990's. She should try the MTR sometime. And as the other contributors have said, very few benefit from the tourists. Only the foreign luxury brands and the landlords benefit. There's certainly no filtering down of the supposed benefits into a rise in the minimum wage, only a rise in rentals. Like the rest of the government, Regina is totally out of touch with the population and their hardships and pressures. Her gold plated civil service pension and the Legco and exco salaries keep her very comfortable herself.
cheeky
the average person in hk says “let it back fire”, we have enough. The influx only benefitted the fat cats, no one else.
johnyuan
Regina Ip needs to be on the ground or someone she can really trust to learn how disruptive Hong Kong experiences from tourism that heavily caters to mainland’s big and small spenders alike.
.
She rehashed calls by the tourism sector of its singular objective that only sees economic imperative. Her added ‘concern’ of poor relationship when both central government and CY Leung put a limit on visiting mainlanders is dubiously absurd without understanding what overcapacity means. No other country allows the inflow of visitors without a quota. It is all about playing a good host to the benefit to both locals and visitors.
.
And I will remind her that the mainlanders aren’t even the usual kind of tourists as what tourists mostly are. Too, that CY Leung again has made a timely sensibly decision most courageously to bring some peace to Hong Kong.
.
Her article without a solution to ‘tourism’ problem in Hong Kong is a muddied and empty writing that invites others to question her concealed motive in writing it.
.
SCMP no pay for her for this column but seek payment from her from her advertisement.
mcheung
".....Some might never want to come back." Good! Then average Hong Kongers can enjoy life again in Hong Kong.
dynamco
what short memories HK people have
how unpopular Vergina Article 23 Broomhead Ip was forced to resign & depart these shores with 500,000 protesters in the streets, her comments on democracy /Hitler, taxi drivers + McDonalds' employees being incapable of debating with her
Now she is a supposed 'reborn' supporter of the very people she despised, rewarded with dual salaries from Exco & Legco At least she castigated certain Exco members of being incapable of understanding Govt procedures
Don't turn your back when in her presence
In the presence of a so called politician & angry cobra, blast the former first
lucifer
This is nonsense. More likely the economy will be put back on track, forcing the government to actually consider sustainable policies for Hong Kong's future. rents will go down, congestion eased and parallel smuggles will decline in numbers.
It's all going to happen anyway. Look at the Mainland's faltering economy. Apparently Hong Kong retail boom was built on Chinese corruption. Once import duties and Vat are reduced in the Mainland as part of the "rebalancing" to increase household consumption, they won't be coming here to buy cameras and lipstick anymore either.
Note: For American shoppers, Hong Kong is already more expensive for retail goods, despite the country's import duties and state sales taxes. The retail boom has caused rents and other overhead to price Hong Kong out of the retail market for just about everybody but China......you had better start planning, because its coming with or without you.
aplucky1
mainland haters?
does it matter where they are from if they ruin our way of life
we were doing just FINE WITH OUT THEM, and will DO GREAT if not one of them appear here again
you obviously have a lot to gain from this attack from the north so you have zero credibility like the author of this article who is just licking the boots of her daddy

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