Impose tourism surcharge on mainlanders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 5:19am

It is time for the Hong Kong government to rein in the surging number of mainland travellers in the city.

While there are important advantages to be gained from these tourists, including increased retail and restaurant sales, and a chance for our mainland relatives to see our law-based society, the burden on our limited infrastructure (crowded streets and underground) is reaching breaking point. Try taking the MTR, including former KCR lines, for a week.

Excessive tourist numbers create a great deal of inconvenience for the working poor. They find it hard to accept, as they do not reap the benefits of tourism. It is the retailers - for example, jewellers - and their landlords who benefit directly.

Hong Kong's masses have to go through the daily battle of travelling on an overcrowded underground system and fighting their way through the crowds at shops just to purchase their daily necessities. The problems I have described also accentuate the rich-poor divide in Hong Kong, not only financially but also in terms of quality of life (travelling in a limousine compared to a crowded underground).

Tourism is a good industry. But, like anything else, too much of a good thing can be undesirable. We desperately need some controls.

The free travel by Shenzhen residents to Hong Kong has led to many retired citizens coming here on a daily basis. Eligible elderly pensioners from across the border, taking advantage of concessionary fares on public transport and armed with shopping carts, exacerbate overcrowding problems on the MTR system.

I would suggest a temporary infrastructure surcharge. Each mainland visitor would pay HK$200 each time they visited Hong Kong. The proceeds could be used to subsidise the working poor and senior citizens in Hong Kong. The charge would also screen out travellers with less urgent matters or less spending power. Retailers would not be affected, as their customers could afford to pay this sum.

The fee would ensure that proceeds from the tourism boom would be shared in a more equitable way so that local workers and senior citizens could enjoy some financial benefits.

The government should also develop further tourist attractions so that Hong Kong is not just seen as a shopping centre (over time, the shopping frenzy will subside). Where is Hong Kong's version of Sentosa?

It is just like a car park - when it is full (especially if it is free), the gates close. Instead of this "full" sign, I suggest we charge a "parking fee".

Thomas Chow, Sha Tin