My Take

Time to end the old reliance on Chinese groups to prop up Hong Kong’s tourism

Unless we can grow and diversify our tourism to create value-added employment, it is not a real job creator

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 December, 2015, 3:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:59pm

Oh boy, it’s the end of the world. Tour groups from the mainland dropped a whopping 20 per cent in the first 10 months of this year. Visitor figures have been going down month after month since the summer.

Jason Wong Chun-tat, the new chairman of the Travel Industry Council, blamed Hong Kong’s anti-mainland sentiment and the death of a mainland tourist as the cause.

How did he know? Did he conduct a survey? While I think most “locust”-hating protesters who hit the streets in recent months are the real pests, it’s not clear they are the sole or even a real cause.

The most direct cause is the crackdown by mainland authorities on so-called “zero-charge” tours with their enforced shopping. That followed the death of a Chinese tourist in October after he was allegedly beaten unconscious by four men while trying to mediate a dispute between a fellow visitor and the tour group leader.

Tour groups account for less than 10 per cent of total mainland visitors. In reality, visitor numbers have barely changed in the past 10 months: Overall mainland arrivals, which include both individual tourists and tour groups, fell only 0.2 percent.

Considering the economic downturn on the mainland, the falling yuan and our unwelcome attitude, mainland tourism has proved to be rather robust.

So much for the headline numbers. Why then are our tourism officials crying wolf?

It’s because they, by and large, represent our good old vested interests - the big landlords, hoteliers and big brands - that do rely on mainland tour groups for shopping and spending.

This was a formula that had worked for more than a decade at considerable cost to the physical well-being and comfort of the rest of Hong Kong. It no longer does.

Coupled with falling rents and a gloomy outlook for the property market, no wonder these people are running scared.

At this point, they shout back: what about the loss of jobs in the tourism industry? Yes, there is a legion of low-paid and dead-end jobs associated with sales and tourism, which incidentally represents only 5 per cent of our GDP.

Unless we can grow and diversify our tourism to create value-added employment, it is not a real job creator.