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  • Sep 21, 2014
  • Updated: 4:28pm
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

539188af-6710-40c4-8f58-08d20a3209ca
Quite simply, Hong Kong has been slowly and irrevocably swamped by visitors. It matters not where they are from or how they behave, the biggest issue the city has to face is it is losing its appeal as a place to live. It is over crowded, the infrastructure built for the people of Hong Kong (and not the tourists) is bulging at its seams. A trip to any of the theme parks is an ordeal of patience and tolerance. The MTR will soon be no more welcoming than the London Underground. Hong Kong used to be a fun and happy place to live. Now all I see is tension, aggression and greed.
zhelu1985@live.com
It's amusing when hker act as if their political decisions matter...
Your former masters, the Britbongs, have long since abandoned you.
Beijing is your master now. They hold the guns, you live under them. Your opinion is irrelevant; guns don't care.
kongshan2047
First we need to get one point clear. Do the people of HK want a curb on tourists in general, regardless of where they are from or do they just want a curb on tourists from mainland China?
Secondly, how do we make a clear distinction between someone who comes for leisure against someone who comes for business. If a businessman comes to HK for business negotiation, and during his spare time goes shopping at Harbour City. Is he in HK for leisure or business, or both?
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.
scmpgt
One day HK government will reveal the average pre-1997 international tourist has 2-3x the spending power of today's mainland tourist.
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
It is so clear for all to see that if china and its hk cohorts can solve the livelihood problems in hk, few would question your legitimacy to rule. It is when you bunch of self proclaimed new masters of hk have failed for the past 17 years that people, even peace loving professionals, are demanding change. why waste time telling the world that china is the ultimate ruler of hk, you looked stupid when you cared more about publicity than actually solving issues. Hk could move mountains when it built the new airport in the early 90s but could not find the same vigour to have proper roofs for its people.
cheeky
the average person in hk says “let it back fire”, we have enough. The influx only benefitted the fat cats, no one else.
maecheung
".....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

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