'Tough task' to set limit on tourists to Hong Kong

Chief executive faces a daunting challenge in drawing up a tourism policy, experts warn

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 2:19pm

Tourism veterans say it will be extremely difficult for the government to determine the maximum number of tourists Hong Kong can accommodate, as officials try to calm public anger at the influx of mainland visitors.

Last month authorities on both sides of the border reached a consensus on a plan allowing 4.1 million non-permanent residents of Shenzhen easier access to Hong Kong through multiple-entry visas.

The Hong Kong government said it would set up a mechanism to assess the city's potential to receive more travellers, while Shenzhen agreed not to change its permit rules until the assessment was finished.

While Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying has yet to reveal how the assessment will be done, two veterans who took part in the latest South China Morning Post debate warned it would be extremely difficult.

"How can the government draw a line and come up with so-called 'capacity'?" asked Michael Wu Siu-ieng, chairman of the Travel Industry Council.

Using the availability of hardware to determine a maximum capacity could flop as these numbers could be increased, he said.

"If there aren't enough [immigration] officers stationed at the border, the government can hire more. If there are certain times when the border is too busy, there can be co-ordination among travel agencies" to avoid long queues, he explained.

Tony Tse, an assistant professor at Polytechnic University's School of Hotel and Tourism Management, said the high proportion of same-day visitors made assessments difficult. From January to July, one out of two visitors was a same-day traveller who did not stay in any form of accommodation.

Multiple entries by one person also complicates the calculation of visitor arrivals, he said.

"A visitor arrives in Hong Kong, passes through the immigration, leaves Hong Kong to go to, say, Macau, or mainland China, returns to Hong Kong and passes through immigration again. This same visitor would be accounted for as two arrivals," Tse said.

Caroline Mak Sui-king, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, said that the price inflation linked to the rise in visitor numbers reflected an acute shortage of retail space and lack of tourism planning.