Unity needed to address the slide in Hong Kong’s tourist numbers

Instead of putting their own interests first, tourism practitioners should work closely with the government to explore new areas of growth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 12:57am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 January, 2016, 1:02am

For the first time in many years, Hong Kong’s annual visitor arrivals slipped by 2.5 per cent to slightly below 60 million last year. For a sector that has long enjoyed steady growth, the drop is understandably a cause for concern. The situation is not helped when the industry is fraught with infighting over measures to strengthen protection for tourists. The feud merely reinforces the impression that the industry cares more about making money than reputation.

The business prospects remain bleak, mainly because of our strong currency and the tightened visa policy for Shenzhen visitors. It would not be surprising if arrival figures shrink further.

New regulations are essential to enhance Hong Kong’s tourism competitiveness. The recent clarifications by the Travel Industry Council over new shopping and refund guidelines have somewhat eased the tension. Tour guides and retailers say they have no plan for another mass protest. But the threat of a judicial review is still in the air.

Putting the house in order will be the first step to strengthening the industry. Instead of confrontation, frontline practitioners should opt for unity. The next step will be a structural revamp to provide stronger governance and supervision. This can be achieved by fast-tracking the proposal to replace the council by an independent statutory body.

The government is right not to merely focus on growth in tourist numbers. As more mainlanders travel further afield, we cannot rely on low-end shopping by day trippers across the border. Moving towards a more diversified and high value-added service has to be a priority.

Tourism remains one of Hong Kong’s main economic pillars, accounting for 5 per cent of our GDP and 270,000 jobs. But in an increasingly competitive environment, tourists go to places that give them a good travel experience. Instead of putting their own interests first, tourism practitioners should work closely with the government to explore new areas of growth.