Biggest pro-Beijing party in Hong Kong calls again for curbs on mainland Chinese tourists to city
- About-face by DAB leaves it in the unusual position of echoing pan-democrat concerns on mainland visitors
- Party says numbers visiting To Kwa Wan have hit average of 10,000 a day
Hong Kong’s biggest pro-Beijing party has for the second time in a week called for curbs on the number of mainland Chinese visitors on cheap tours, which it said had hit an average of 10,000 a day in one particularly crowded neighbourhood.
It marked a continued about-face from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), which finds itself in the unusual position of echoing pan-democrat concerns on the fraught issue of mainland visitors to the city.
Kwan Ho-yeung, a Kowloon City district councillor from the party, told an RTHK radio programme on Thursday morning the government and Travel Industry Council should work together on a series of suggested easing measures. Those included moving the tourists elsewhere and pressing tour guides to keep an eye on their customers’ behaviour.
Speaking on the same programme, Democratic Party councillor Lai Kwong-wai urged the government to negotiate with mainland authorities to cut the number of low-cost tour groups from the north.
“We are at the lowest end of the whole industry chain and we can do nothing to control the influx of tourists,” Kwan said.
“Without support and help from the government, our district will be paralysed.”
Visitors on the low-cost packages are often taken to To Kwa Wan, a former industrial area in the district known for fragile old buildings and elderly people’s homes.
They often, Lai said, have lunch in restaurants that do not cater to local residents, before being herded into shops selling jewellery or chocolates purported to be special souvenirs from Hong Kong. The area’s narrow pavements can get so packed that people have to walk on the road, he said. Later at night, the tourists gather at Kowloon City Pier, where they board sightseeing ferries to cruise Victoria Harbour.
A woman who ran a shop near the pier called the radio programme and complained about the noise and pollution generated by the dozens of coaches which ferry visitors around.
Kwan said: “For more than a decade the district of To Kwa Wan has received on average 100 tour groups a day, which in the peak time of recent months surged to 300 groups a day. The business owners might be happy, but the residents are suffering.”
The district councillors said the mainland tourists were not shown “the finest of Hong Kong” and suggested the police, the Travel Industry Council and the government step in.
“In the short term, the police should step up law enforcement against coaches breaking parking rules, and the council should mobilise the tourist-receiving merchants to invest more manpower in crowd control,” Kwan said.
“In the long run,” Lai added, “the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau should negotiate with mainland authorities to reduce the number of cheap tours to Hong Kong.”
The growing number of tour groups was in line with Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s forecast earlier this month that the city’s tourist arrival figures for the year would exceed 60 million – a four-year high, and up 3.6 per cent on last year. So far, mainland Chinese account for about 80 per cent of the city’s visitors.
Kwan and Lai’s appeals came three days after DAB chairwoman and lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king made a similar call on Christmas Eve jointly with Pun Kwok-wah, a DAB member who chairs the Kowloon City District Council.
Lee said local residents had been pushed to their limits as a daily average of more than 10,000 mainland visitors shopped and dined in the district, according to estimates based on industry numbers.
Pun warned of potential conflicts, after some angry residents threw water bombs at visitors.
The DAB’s recent concerns marked a departure from its stance of support for major transport links which primarily bring mainlanders to the city, such as backing the controversial customs arrangement for the cross-border high-speed rail link and the construction of a bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, Guangdong province.
Attracting more mainland visitors was cited as an economic advantage of the multibillion-dollar projects, which opened to traffic earlier this year.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, some 900,000 visitors entered Hong Kong, among which more than 124,000 came via those two routes.