Legislators are calling for a cap on the number of individual mainland visitors coming to Hong Kong, saying a surge in their arrivals has stretched the city’s facilities to the limit.
The Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun told local radio on Thursday an influx of mainland visitors triggered by the individual travellers scheme was having a negative impact on Hongkongers’ daily lives.
The scheme was established in 2003 and allows mainlanders from certain cities and places to visit Hong Kong without joining a group. It has been expanded a number of times, extending the scheme to more mainland cities.
According to Tourism Board data, the scheme brought more than 100 million mainland visitors to the city in December alone.
To said the city should stop extending the scheme to more cities and turn to capitalising on high spending visitors from the top one-tenth wealthiest tier of mainland cities.
“The best tourists are those who can benefit our economy, job market the most and help us earn the most money,” he said.
Also on the radio show, lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king, from the pro-Beijing the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, agreed the individual travellers’ scheme should not be expanded for now.
Lee urged the government to take a leading role in reviewing the scheme with mainland authorities and to seek a stronger voice in determining the number of permits granted daily, a power now held by the mainland.
She also suggested setting up special shopping zones for mainland visitors near the border.
“Most of the mainland visitors do one-day shopping here and do not stay overnight,” Lee said. “We can build large shopping zones for them and this can help lessen the pressure on our downtown shopping areas.”
The city saw an increase of mainland tourists over this week’s Lunar New Year holiday, one of the peak seasons in the year. Their arrivals filled many hotels and theme parks.
“The number of mainland tourists has exceeded the city’s expectation and its limit. It has reached the bottleneck,” said Lee.
For the second day in a row, Ocean Park on Wednesday suspended ticket sales for part of the day because the theme park neared its legal maximum of 36,000 visitors.
In the first three days of the Year of the Snake, more than 380,000 mainlanders entered Hong Kong, a 33 per cent increase from 286,000 in the same period last year, according to Immigration Department figures.