'Stop attacking Chinese tourists': Hong Kong leader says protests are threatening city's 'hospitable' image as visitor numbers drop

Chief executive laments slump in visitor numbers and warns against further protests aimed at tourists amid concern from industry

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2015, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 4:41pm

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has spoken of his disappointment at a slump in visitor numbers, and has urged Hongkongers not to stage further protests against tourists.

Figures released by the Tourism Board on Monday showed 4.92 million people visited the city in July, a decline of 8.4 per cent year on year. Among mainland visitors - by far the biggest group - the year on year fall was 9.8 per cent, to 3.85 million.

"It is easy to drive visitors away but hard to invite them back," Leung said ahead of the Executive Council's weekly meeting yesterday.

"We do not allow any behaviour or speech that will spoil the hospitable image of Hong Kong. We do not want to see any action attacking tourists."

Leung's comments were an apparent reference to protests by so-called localist groups upset by an influx of mainland visitors and the effect it has had on the daily lives and well-being of Hongkongers. A series of protests - specifically aimed at cross-border traders - erupted into chaos in New Territories towns in February and March. Last year, an uncomfortably visible protest was held in the popular shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui.

Leung said the visitors helped put food on the tables of many low-income families, while the retail and hotel industries would also suffer if tourists stayed away.

The government would continue to promote the city but Hongkongers also had a role to play, he added.

When asked whether the fall should be attributed to anti-tourist activities or weak economic conditions elsewhere, Leung admitted various factors had contributed, but said Hong Kong should be vigilant as there was "no anti-visitor movement" anywhere else in the world.

READ MORE: Is Hong Kong really overwhelmed by tourists? These figures suggest otherwise

Travel Industry Council chief executive Joseph Tung Yao-chung said yesterday that the protests were still having an impact on tourists' desire to travel to Hong Kong.

He said news and discussion about unfriendly behaviour towards mainland tourists continued to circulate online. Some tour agencies had told him they remained concerned mainland tourists were not welcome in Hong Kong.

"They said: 'Hey, Hong Kong is not welcoming us. Why should we go to Hong Kong?'" Tung said. "This worries us."

Tung said he was particularly concerned about a recent drop in the number of visitors staying overnight, which was down 11.6 per cent year on year in July, after a 7.2 per cent fall in June.

"This is because overnight visitors spent more than others ... So this has an impact on Hong Kong's overall tourism industry," he said.

Mainland tourists were being drawn to other destinations which had relaxed visa requirements and where exchange rates were more favourable than in Hong Kong, he explained.

Tung urged Hongkongers to stop anti-tourist behaviour and hoped that big events scheduled for the rest of the year, including a food festival and a cycling competition, would draw visitors.