My Take

There should be more to tourism than just shopping

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2015, 1:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2015, 1:31am

It's all doom and gloom with the latest tourism and retail sales figures. And that has our leaders running scared.

The value of total retail sales in July dropped 2.8 per cent year on year to HK$37.6 billion. The fall in July was the biggest since March's decline of 2.9 per cent. The growth in visitor arrivals is slowing as they fell from 22 per cent in 2010 to 12 per cent last year. There are reports that commercial landlords are finally willing to cut rents by double digits, with a prime site in Russell Street, near Times Square, reportedly down by 40 per cent for a short-term lease.

Against this backdrop of tourism decline, "nativists" and other social activists resumed their protests against mainland parallel traders in Sheung Shui at the weekend after a lull of six months. That had all the great and good queuing up to denounce the protesters.

Economic secretary Greg So Kam-leung said the protesters were being "extremely irresponsible". Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok said they were hurting a retail industry already reeling from falling tourist numbers.

Liberal Party leader Vincent Fang Kang went so far as to demand that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who has repeatedly criticised the protests, apologise to mainlanders for Hong Kong's rudeness and lack of hospitality.

Really, people, calm down and relax. It's not the end of the world.

The behaviour of some protesters may be distasteful, but they are merely a symptom, not the cause. Our leaders may even look on the slowing visitor numbers and retail sales as an opportunity for an overhaul.

Falling numbers of visitors may help lessen tensions in Hong Kong against mainlanders, who represent almost 80 per cent of tourists. The concentration of shops and services catering to mainland clients will have to diversify their businesses if they are to survive. They have mostly themselves to blame for putting too much into one basket. Surely they must realise they can't count on mainland tourism forever.

If we refocus on improving the quality of life and services for locals and visitors alike, our tourism will have moved up the value chain rather than relying solely on numbers and volume.