‘Golden Week’ loses its lustre amid the traffic chaos
Mandatory mainland week-long breaks have turned to mayhem and it’s about time people took their holidays when they like, not when they are told to
China’s “Golden Week” holidays, taken three times a year, are as much a bonanza as an ordeal. The mandatory week-long breaks for all those on the mainland, while boosting tourism and consumption, also stretch facilities to breaking point, as reflected in the traffic congestion in the southern region of the country over the weekend. The situation was so serious this time that Hong Kong had to cancel hundreds of cross-border bus services as a result.
That brings us to the question of whether the mass holiday policy should be kept. Introduced in 1999 following the Asian financial crisis, the concept was meant to enable people to take a longer break and help boost the economy. But as those on the mainland have become more well-off and mobile, the exodus has turned to mayhem, with roads clogged and tourist attractions packed.
The gridlock on the first day of the so-called “super Golden Week”, as it is longer the usual National Day break, is the latest example of how the movement of hundreds of millions of people can become a logistical nightmare. Whether the transport authorities on both sides of the border may have communicated better to avoid the inconvenience caused to travellers is worth looking into. But local bus operators cannot be faulted for scrapping most of their northbound services as a result of the chaos.
Until there is a fundamental change in the way those on the mainland take their holidays, problems may well emerge again. There have long been calls to allow individuals to take their holidays when they want. That would help ease the burden on both transport and tourism facilities. It would also help ease pressure on the city.
Love it or loathe it, “Golden Week” has been a source of wealth and conflict in Hong Kong. Compared with last year, the first day of the holiday saw mainland visitor numbers up by 9.4 per cent to more than 200,000. The overall hotel occupancy rate in the first four days of the week was more than 90 per cent. Individual outlets also reported a 20 per cent increase in sales in pharmaceutical and personal care products, some favourite items of mainland shoppers.
While businesses welcome cash-rich customers from the north with open arms, the influx also fuels tension with locals, with streets and trains becoming more crowded and necessity goods running out of stock.
That is why there were protests targeting visitors from the mainland in the past.
Given developments on China’s tourism and economic fronts, it makes little sense to maintain the holiday policy today. It would be much less of a burden to both the city and the mainland if citizens could take their holidays when they like, not when they are told to.