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Chinese tourists

Too many cooks ... Sack Hong Kong’s tourism officials and hand their jobs to a PR firm

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on promoting the city yet the results leave much to be desired

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 12:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 12:57am

We all know about the dismal state of Hong Kong’s tourism sector. Certainly the economic downturn on the mainland, the increasing sophistication of mainland travellers and the unwelcoming attitude of many Hongkongers are factors.

Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok has banged on about the need to attract more “high-quality” mainland tourists instead of the typical day traders. Perhaps his concern speaks volumes about the short-sighted tunnel vision of our tourism officials.

You wonder if those who run the Tourism Commission and Tourism Board are not doing a very good job in promoting what ought to be an easy sell. And that may be a key reason for the decline in our tourism sector.

Lam’s background is in property and hotels, and more recently in entertainment. His latter expertise may be a plus, as Hong Kong’s pop stars are still a big draw on the mainland. But all his thinking and public pronouncements reflect mostly the short-term interests of the property and hotel sector. Meanwhile, other board members come from retail, jewellery, transportation and more property and hotels. Their views overwhelmingly dominate the strategies of the board, or rather the lack of strategy such as diversifying visitor sources to countries other than the mainland.

Such low-wage, no-innovation service sectors have earned their bosses outsized rewards, but left seven million locals to deal with 70 million mainland visitors. Indirectly, such vested interests help worsen Hong Kong-mainland relations.

Also, the board, which got a whopping HK$692 million last year from the government, seems to have a lot of duplications with the Tourism Commission, which had a HK$209 million budget. The commission has five assistant commissioners (each of whom earns HK$1.97 million a year).

One is in charge of coordinating with the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and Disneyland; a second is responsible for Disneyland’s expansion plan; a third with the light and sound show A Symphony of Lights, the Hong Kong Wetland Park and Ngong Ping 360 and the “Young Ambassador Scheme”. (She also “housekeeps” the Tourism Board, whatever that means); a fourth helps oversee Ocean Park and the Mega Events Fund; and the fifth liaises with the Travel Industry Council and his counterparts on the mainland as well as Macau and Taiwan. Is this a joke? Merge the board and commission, eliminate most of their staff and hire a few good PR firms instead.