Hong Kong tourism needs more than a dedicated bureau to regain its lustre
- A lack of centralised decision-making and well-organised coordination at the highest levels on tourism is a pressing issue
- The measure of reform of the government’s structure should not be whether we have one more or one less bureau, but if the inherent problems can be solved
Over the years, the Hong Kong government has on a number of occasions proposed a structural reorganisation in the hope of improving the effectiveness of its governance, with little success.
Beijing has successfully merged culture and tourism under the governance of one ministry, which seeks to promote everything from sightseeing, eating and shopping to the magnificence of Chinese culture.
The partnership between the Tourism Commission, the Travel Industry Council and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, led by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, has been successful in promoting tourism locally and globally. There is proven, strong leadership among the existing policy bureaus.
These departments, which are not under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, are unfamiliar with the operations of the tourism industry. The lack of centralised decision-making and well-organised coordination on tourism at the highest levels of government is a pressing issue.
First, it is necessary to strengthen coordination within government. There is evidence that high-level centralisation and enhancing cross-departmental cooperation is effective under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, but it does not extend beyond the bureau.
It is important to find an appropriate official to complete the many delayed efforts aimed at improving Hongkongers’ livelihoods. Otherwise, government restructuring won’t improve efficiency and will only add to the administration’s workload.
Third, conflicts between accountable officials and civil servants must be dealt with efficiently. To make public officials truly accountable, it is necessary to ensure there is no conflict between their current powers and responsibilities and those of civil servants. For example, the appointment of officials in the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau is not decided directly by the bureau secretary but by the respective permanent secretary.
Even if the secretary has his or her own policies, they may not necessarily be fully supported by civil servants and those policies could eventually fail. On the other side, civil servants are consistently waiting for instructions because they are not directly involved in policymaking, so delays in policymaking are inevitable.
The true measure of reform of the government’s structure should not be whether we have one more or one less bureau, but whether the problems inherent in the operation of government can be solved.
Timothy Chui is executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association. Casper Wong is vice-chairperson of the Third Side