Hongkongers see few benefits from influx of mainland tourists

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 4:50am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 4:50am

I refer to the article by Shirley Yuen, CEO of the General Chamber of Commerce ("Limiting mainland visitors counters Hong Kong's open doors policy", July 29).

No country the size of Hong Kong, with a population of seven million, handles 54 million tourists a year. About 75 per cent of these visitors are mainlanders, and it is this geographical proximity and small physical size that should prompt the SAR government to limit tourist numbers.

Hongkongers do not discriminate against mainland tourists because they are from north of the border, but they do feel the adverse effects of 40 million mainlanders entering the city each year.

Yuen says Hong Kong is in danger of losing tourists to the likes of South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. South Korea - about 90 times larger than Hong Kong - handles 11 million tourists a year, three million of whom are mainland Chinese. Malaysia is 300 times larger, with about 25 million tourists, two million of them mainlanders. Singapore had 15 million tourists in 2013, of whom 2.3 million were mainlanders.

These countries are a few flying hours from China and have generally higher taxes than Hong Kong; with taxation, tourism revenue benefits a wider spectrum of people there.

In low-tax Hong Kong, regardless of the high cost to society from inflation and overcrowding, retail tourism benefits mainly landlords, property developers and jewellery shops. Local neighbourhood shops and restaurants frequented by Hong Kong's grass roots are forced out by high rents.

Escalating prices makes it expensive for the grass roots to dine at their favourite cha chaan teng, as our economy is now geared towards a price and economy for tourists, not locals.

The currency peg that benefits certain industries, such as tourism, results in wage earners' productivity gains not being reflected in real pay increases due to inflation.

Our artificially weak currency and low tax environment shouldn't be mistaken for high productivity. Britain and Switzerland have strong currencies but are doing better compared to the euro zone.

Many Hongkongers lately have had ill feelings towards business, and the Chamber of Commerce should constructively address this instead of, for example, blaming high labour costs due to the minimum wage.

Although tourism accounts for 5 per cent of our economy, it adversely effects most of the population. It is right that the government should consider limiting tourist numbers to continue making Hong Kong habitable for its people.

Bernard E. S. Lee, Tsuen Wan