Stop driving Chinese visitors away, tourism chief warns

Tourism chief says that if hostility continues, mainlanders might turn their backs on city and head for Paris – and we’ll be all the poorer for it

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 10:45am

Hong Kong could become "very dull" if the backlash against mainland tourists continues - and they might just spend their cash in Paris instead, the city's tourism chief warned yesterday.

Tourism Board chairman James Tien Pei-chun said it was "sandwiched" between rising anti-mainland sentiment and its mandate to promote tourism.

While its tourism campaign on the mainland remained unaffected for now by recent protests over cross-border parallel traders, he said the board was concerned about their impact.

"If there is too much noise about this anti-mainland sentiment and mainlanders stop coming here, Hong Kong will become very dull. Don't forget that nowadays these mainland tourists can easily go to Paris to shop instead," Tien said.

He added that there was also uncertainty about the annual influx of 800,000 business travellers from the mainland - who are usually more willing to spend money - after Beijing's recent move to curb extravagance by officials.

Tourism, Tien said, was the city's only pillar industry with sustained growth. Spending by tourists reached HK$305 billion last year, up 16.5 per cent. Overnight visitor numbers also increased, by 6.5 per cent.

And this growth was being driven by mainland tourists. Of the 48 million arrivals, 70 per cent, or 34 million, were from the mainland - up 24 per cent from 2011. Of those, 66 per cent were solo travellers.

The Tourism Board was among those behind the solo visitor scheme for mainland travellers - an arrangement now being blamed for problems such as cross-border parallel traders, who are accused of buying up stocks of infant milk formula and driving up shop rents.

Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan told the security panel meeting in the Legislative Council yesterday: "These tourists are destroying our local culture. What degree of social chaos will it take for the government to do away with these permits?"

But Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok sidestepped the call. "Hong Kong has always been a city of tourism. We welcome people from all over the world," Lai said, adding that the government "understands" the limited capacity to accommodate tourists.

Earlier yesterday, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said a review of tourism infrastructure was under way - and the findings would be communicated to Beijing. But he dodged calls from lawmakers to set up a shopping zone near the border.

Tien said that such a zone would not get the support of customs officials in Shenzhen.

And he would not say whether he plans to step down as chairman when his term ends on March 31. He has been elected chairman of the legislature's economic development panel and said he could not hold both roles.