My Take

Opening the floodgates to more visitors from the mainland a risky political move for C.Y. Leung

Expansion of the scheme that allows individuals to come to Hong Kong without joining group tours would only serve to inflame anti-mainland sentiment

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 1:08am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 1:13am

The chief executive promised last year not to expand the individual visitor scheme for mainlanders. Now it looks like Leung Chun-ying is ready to break his own promise; that is, if you believe his one-time rival and former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. But that’s a big “if”.

A Standing Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Tang claims the Hong Kong government has approached the National Tourism Administration to raise the possibility of putting more lower-tier mainland cities under the scheme.

“The SAR government has raised the possibility of increasing the number of tourists,” Tang told reporters in Being.

Well, that’s neither here nor there. It’s no doubt an option the Leung administration has been under pressure to adopt from the powerful tourism lobby. And Tang is close to the tycoons whose businesses span the hotel and tourism sectors.

But Leung and his masters in Beijing are not completely blind to the potential conflicts and anti-mainland sentiments that expanding the scheme could easily revive.

The current scheme allows residents from 49 mostly tier-1 and tier-2 mainland cities to visit Hong Kong individually, without the need to join a tour group. However, following the scheme’s launch in 2003, it has not included any new cities since 2007.

Instead of jumping the gun on an official announcement of the scheme’s expansion, it looks like Tang and his rich buddies are trying to put more pressure on the government, which is probably as yet undecided on the issue.

Considering the aftermath of the Mong Kok riot and the rising influence of radical localism, Leung would be unforgivably hasty to do so.

The scheme already covers all the top mainland cities. His administration has repeatedly said it wants to attract so-called quality visitors with greater spending power. How would including lower-tier cities with less well-off residents help cultivate “quality” visitors?

Despite all the gloomy talk about the end of the world with declining visitor numbers, tourism only makes up 5 per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP. While it employs about a quarter of a million workers, most of these jobs are low-paying and with poor career prospects.

For Leung, why risk paying a heavy political price for a small economic gain?