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Chinese tourists

Hong Kong’s tourism industry about to get a revamp, commerce chief says

While sketchy on the details, Edward Yau says there will be more scrutiny of key businesses and more consumer protection, with specifics to come after chief executive’s policy address

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 10:43pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 5:08am

Hong Kong’s struggling tourism industry is about to get a comprehensive development plan, aimed at creating new attractions and offering better protection for tourists, according to commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah.

Yau gave no details of the plan, but the city’s tourism workers called for more resources, more industry supervision and better infrastructure ahead of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s maiden policy address, due on Wednesday.

“As a small city, we need to develop different attractions ... and more unique activities other than shopping,” Yau said on Friday. He said his bureau would unveil a slate of new policies after Lam’s address.

He also said the bureau would step up scrutiny of businesses integral to the tourism industry, especially airlines. That pledge followed Hong Kong Express’s abrupt cancellations last months of 18 flights between October 1 and 8.

That debacle affected thousands of passengers’ travel plans for the “golden week” of public holidays.

Until about three years ago, tourism had been a key driver of Hong Kong’s economy for a decade, fuelled by a huge influx of mainland tourists.

The sector still employs more than 280,000 people. But earlier growth was hit hard by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s far-reaching anti-corruption campaign from 2012, which caused big-spending mainland shoppers stay away.

The slump appears to have bottomed out, with tourist numbers for the first eight months of 2017 up 1.9 per cent on the same period the year before.

Tourism sector legislator Yiu Si-wing welcomed Yau’s pledge of action. He urged the government to focus more on growing smaller tourist spots with local features, rather than “dumping money” on big developments like the Hong Kong Disneyland expansion. In May, the Legislative Council gave the government the go-ahead to spend taxpayers’ money on a HK$5.45 billion facelift for the loss-making theme park.

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Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said he hoped Lam would give more money to his organisation’s training fund, aimed at equipping the city’s traditional travel agencies with modern technology.

Others called for new ideas and more cooperation between different government departments.

Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hotel Owners, suggested the city position itself as an international exam hub by taking advantage of mainland students who travel to Hong Kong to take entrance exams for foreign universities.

“Holding international examinations will bring candidates and family members to Hong Kong. This will benefit hotel occupancy and room rates,” Li said, urging the government to add more examination centres in urban areas.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors to the city during the first five days of the “golden week” was underwhelming, growing only 0.7 per cent on last year, according to figures from the Immigration Department.

Elsewhere, in another policy area key to Yau’s brief, Lam told the opening ceremony of a student design exhibition that next week’s address would also reveal how her administration intends to support the design industry.