Less-than-golden week points to need for new attractions

The excited expectations of the retail and tourism sectors over the influx of mainland visitors during Labour Day 'golden week' have been dashed.

Despite the government's forecast that about 420,000 mainlanders would visit Hong Kong, Immigration Department data shows that golden week attracted only about 286,000 mainlanders over six days, compared to 295,000 last year.

Hong Kong's tourism-related industries have benefited greatly since the launch of the individual visitor scheme on the mainland, with these visitors considered the remedy for the retail industry.

But it may be over-optimistic to assume the attractiveness of Hong Kong will last. Over the past two years, Hong Kong was still a new and exciting place for most mainland visitors, but its attractiveness will inevitably drop once people have been here.

And while fewer visitors are coming to Hong Kong, a higher-than-expected number of holidaymakers are signing up for tours on the mainland.

The attractiveness of Hong Kong is jeopardised by negative factors such as Disneyland's chaotic tickets arrangement over Lunar New Year, and increased reports of rip-offs and dishonesty. Highly volatile and expensive hotel rates during peak seasons also deter visitors from the mainland.

Instead of making optimistic predictions, the government and the Hong Kong Tourism Board should focus on tackling these problems.

Moreover, although Hong Kong is renowned as a shopping paradise, more historical sites and places of interest should be maintained or developed. Unlike those fancy cosmetic and foreign-brands shops, such places are truly unique to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the tourism board tends to neglect them.

Its slogan for 2006 is 'Discover Hong Kong Year'. To maintain our attractiveness, we need to start finding solutions to the problems - and new attractions.


Strength in unity

Every public holiday, the media sends reporters to compare the popularity of Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park ('Sea of people hit Ocean Park, but Disney sees low turnout', May 2). Before Disneyland even opened, the media assumed it would be a threat to Ocean Park.

I find such news meaningless. In fact, the orientation of both parks is wrong. Why must they be rivals? Couldn't they work out plans together for the sake of tourism in Hong Kong?

Like Disney World and Universal Studios in Florida, the two parks sell different products.

To mention just two ways the Florida parks work together, shuttle buses from Universal Studios are allowed to pick up guests from Disney's hotels, and tourists visiting one park may buy tickets for the other at a discount.

Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park both attract tourists to Hong Kong. It's meaningless to compare them. Maybe it's time that the Hong Kong Tourism Board seriously thought of ways to get them to work together, for the sake of the industry.


Quite some vision

Developers' tricks of misrepresentation in publicity material are widely known. Glowing pictures of English country houses and French chateaux are used to promote Hong Kong's latest high-rises in publicity campaigns that are considered 'conceptual'.

However, the bumph thrust into my face by one of a gaggle of Midland Realty agents for Vision City in Tsuen Wan has remarkable vision indeed. The fliers suggest that the Sino Land residential property has a view from just under the Brooklyn Bridge, New York, overlooking lower Manhattan. Not only that, but the Twin Towers are still standing - albeit in a photograph that has been reversed.

The pollution in Tsuen Wan is obviously not as bad as we all thought.


Small-house havoc

Daniel Lam Wai-keung was only doing his duty as vice-chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk in pleading for the speedier granting of applications to build yet more indigenous village houses ('Finally, our voice is heard', May 1). He has made the best of an impossible case and, in the process, conveniently ignored the widespread abuse of the system and its wider implications for Hong Kong.

He says he knew lots of people in Tai Po and Yuen Long who died while waiting for their applications to be approved. He might well reflect upon the possibility that their places were usurped by people permanently domiciled abroad who have sold their ding (rights) to developers with the sole intent of profiting from this outlived concession.

At Shap Long, near where I live, in Mr Lam's own Islands District, the situation is instructive. Seven new properties have been approved in the vicinity of the 'old' village of about five houses, with a further nine being processed. At the 'new' village of about 13 houses, no less than 33 applications are pending, apparently lodged by a single developer.

These applications are being processed without the benefit of a master layout plan, and without evident regard to road capacity, or sewerage and drainage considerations.

This is a situation typical in the New Territories. Notwithstanding that the original small-house policy in 1972 was intended as a temporary measure pending proper planning for village development, the matter has simply not progressed.

Shap Long will soon resemble the flood plains around Yuen Long and Kam Tin, with an unsightly proliferation of scattered houses without adequate roads, parking, drainage or stream protection. And, as in Yuen Long, the government will in time need to spend vast sums of public money to restore drainage on which our very health depends.

The government working group formed in 1997 to address the issue has evidently failed to make the hard strategic decisions required. As with our fisheries, we are now embarked in wholly unsustainable practices. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has talked of strong leadership. It is high time to walk the walk.


Privacy vs press freedom

The Law Reform Commission's proposals to regulate covert surveillance are a step in the right direction in holding the media accountable for people's privacy without infringing on press freedom.

I find it interesting that the Hong Kong Journalists Association is concerned that these measures will infringe on press freedom, considering that its own code of ethics requires journalists to obtain information using only 'straightforward means'.

Despite this code, it seems journalists are all too willing to disregard privacy in favour of some vague notion of public interest.

I hope the new covert surveillance bill prompts journalists to regard the subjects of their sensationalist news with care and consideration.

I realise there are some situations in investigative reporting that require the use of covert surveillance. For example, Australian news gatherers have used covert methods to expose matters of public interest such as conditions in refugee camps, consumer fraud and animal abuse.

But it seems that, lately, journalists in Hong Kong have been less concerned with exposing the truth than with sensationalising news into some form of entertainment. The proposals will maintain the privacy of ordinary people while allowing journalists to pursue news of value.


Church and the state

Letter writer William Mak is right that 'history is full of ongoing, messy power struggles between church and state' ('Religion's bloody history', May 6). Neither church nor state benefit when either side seeks to take over the responsibilities of the other.

Rulers who have sought to take over or destroy Christian churches include Henry VIII, as Mr Mak pointed out, and also Peter the Great, Napoleon, Prince Otto von Bismarck and Joseph Stalin. I understand the Nazis had advanced plans to liquidate the Christian churches throughout the Reich.

A modern government does itself no favours by following this tradition, and modern journalists do themselves no favours by backing them up. In the long run, freedom of religion is the only way for church and state to cohabit.

PAUL FLYNN, Clear Water Bay

Smog takes a holiday

Is it me or have we just enjoyed a marvellous week of clear air while the smokestacks of the Pearl River Delta have been on holiday?

Could I ask the owners of these smokestacks, who mostly reside in Hong Kong, to take heed?

In the meantime, they could lend our chief executive a hand in wading through the growing pile of letters from schoolchildren wanting to know why their eyes are sore, their noses constantly run, and why Billy wasn't in class today because he's got asthma.