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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Hong Kong tourism chiefs give backing to high-speed rail joint checkpoint plan

Industry representatives say convenience and efficiency outweigh concerns over the application of mainland laws in the city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 10:51pm

Hong Kong tourism industry representatives have expressed overwhelming support for the proposal to allow a joint checkpoint arrangement at the high speed rail terminus in West Kowloon, saying convenience and efficiency outweigh concerns over the application of mainland laws in the city.

Trade leaders also placed high hopes that the high-speed railway linking Hong Kong and Guangzhou will provide a much-needed boost on visitor figures, and further anchor the city’s position as a tourism hub.

On Thursday, the heads of 15 member associations under the Travel Industry Council and hundreds of industry workers attended a briefing session on the joint border clearance arrangements at West Kowloon terminus.

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Transport minister Frank Chan Fan and Undersecretary for Commerce and Economic Development Bernard Chan Pak-li were invited to address industry concerns.

But in a twist of events, not a single question was raised over the controversial plan to allow mainland officers to enforce national laws in the heart of the city. Critics have said the arrangement would set a dangerous precedent on having mainland laws enforced in Hong Kong and contravened the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

“We are happy and excited about the proposal,” said Jason Wong Chun-tat, chairman of the Travel Industry Council and an owner to tour group firm, Hong Thai Travel.

Deputy chairwoman Gianna Hsu stressed that the council did not “blindly” dismiss the concerns in the community.

“We understand people’s positions ... But [the tourism sector] doesn’t want to touch on politics,” she explained.

Asked how the rail link could benefit inbound tour operators, Wong admitted cross-border coaches may remain the dominant mode of transport for mainland tour groups, but the high-speed railway would provide an alternative.

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Hong Kong saw a 4.5 per cent year on year decline in visitor arrivals last year, with expenditure related to inbound tourism diving 10 per cent to HK$296 billion.

During the half-hour briefing, transport chief Chan stressed the HK$84.4 billion price tag for the 26km Hong Kong section of the rail link was worth every penny.

“It will connect Hong Kong to more than 600 high-speed rail stations around China ... Not all of these destinations could be reached by air,” he told the audience.

He also responded to criticism that the rail link’s terminus in Guangzhou was in a remote location far away from the city centre.

“Hong Kong people are smart – if they wish to travel to Guangzhou East station, they will take the intercity through train instead,” he argued.

Currently a trip from Hung Hom to Guangzhou East takes around two hours, compared to 48 minutes to Guangzhou South by high-speed rail, although Guangzhou East has the advantage of being in the heart of the city.