Hong Kong doesn't need 'forced shopping' to attract tourists

Alice Wu says the government must crack down on "forced shopping" and other unethical tourism practices, and focus on making HK a great home for its best asset - its people

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 October, 2015, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 October, 2015, 4:23pm

Tourism is a huge deal for any city. It goes beyond the economic benefits that tourists bring. It's a measurement of how well our city takes care of its inhabitants, its environment and how hard its people work for making their city a better home.

It is, in short, a measure of liveability. Hong Kong can't be appealing to visitors if we ourselves can't find appeal in it.

Our cityscape is stunning - the view from the Peak is proof of that. For years, people have joked about shopping being this city's favourite sport, but that is not what gives this city our soul. We've got a lot to offer our visitors - and these go beyond the neon lights, Ocean Park and the Big Buddha.

Hong Kong is an alpha-plus world city. We do not need to con visitors here and hold them up in, say, jewellery shops

Our city's tourism industry has been in trouble for months. Incidents, including some tragic ones, have further exacerbated the problem. These incidents are reminders that the travel industry can no longer be a self-regulating one.

Authorities must stop the operation of low-fee tour groups that force clients to shop at designated shops. If we are adamant about selling ourselves as a shopping paradise, we need to understand that once tour groups are allowed to coerce shopping, that paradise is lost.

READ MORE: Tourism watchdog probes low price tours, 'forced' shopping in wake of mainland Chinese man killed in jewellery shop

"Shadow tourists" - agents disguised as tourists for the purpose of deception - need to be punished by our laws. This is something our lawmakers and the government can work together on, now. And perhaps this will give our lawmakers, refreshed from their recess, something meaningful to work on.

With "forced shopping" tours once again making the headlines, we should welcome the fact that the government has finally committed itself to setting up a new Travel Industry Authority. That is the least the government can do. In fact, authorities on both sides of the border ought to do more to stop the operation of these low-fee tours.

READ MORE: Malpractice on shopping tours to Hong Kong must be stopped

On top of making sure that agents and agencies aren't sidestepping rules and laws for a quick buck, the government needs to be much more proactive and play a greater role in protecting this city's assets - the people, our communities, and our culture - to make Hong Kong more than just a shopping paradise.

The consulting service Reputation Institute has just released the results of its 2015 survey on the world's most reputable cities. While Hong Kong and other Asian cities have made improvements from a year ago, we are nowhere near the top 10, and that should give our survey-addicted bureaucrats food for thought.

Hong Kong scored 66.3 points (moderate) this year - a jump from 60.6 previously. The improved score still puts us out of the league of Tokyo (74.4), Osaka (73.3) and Singapore (70), all of which were deemed to have a strong reputation. Ranking high on economic relevance does not necessarily translate into being reputable. Money can't buy happiness, or a good reputation.

Quality of life - having an appealing environment - carries weight in the reputation department, according to the author of the survey. And it makes sense, being more appealing brings in more business, investments and visitors.

READ MORE: Hong Kong's ailing tourism industry fears death of mainland visitor after shopping row will deter even more Chinese tourists

Hong Kong is an alpha-plus world city. All sort of visitors from all over the world are here for trade shows, exhibitions, and for pleasure. We do not need to con visitors here and hold them up in, say, jewellery shops.

It will take cleaning up our air, cultivating our communities, continuing efforts in supporting the growing art scene, and keeping its people and visitors safe to ensure that Hong Kong is a place where people come, not for the bargain tours, or just for the shops.

A city's soul lies with its people and their communities. What makes a city buzz are its inhabitants and the communities that foster vibrancy.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA