Saturday, 18 January 2014

Opening Tourism Gates Wider

Can you imagine even more visitors in places like Causeway Bay?
The Hong Kong government continues to bank on mainland tourists to prop up the city's economy.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung projects there could be 70 million visitors in the next three years and 100 million within a decade to Hong Kong.

He also claimed the city could cope with the extra visitors, but did admit there could be problems, like congestion in the MTR.

"There will be an impact on citizens... they may not be able to get on the MTR and need to wait for the next train," So said.

He obviously has not taken the MTR during rush hour, where commuters have to wait three or four trains before they can get on.

This was one of the complaints of angry residents who believe the government is out of touch with what is really going on in terms of overcrowding for transport services and how there are fewer quieter places left to enjoy in the city.

Critics not only suggested setting a limit to the number of visitors to Hong Kong but also predicted there would be even more tensions between locals and mainlanders.

However So insisted that because Hong Kong is an open port, "we cannot and should not set a limit to the number of visitors," he said, adding that tourism accounted for 4.5 percent of the city's gross domestic product and provided 230,000 jobs.

Activist Roy Tam Ho-pong of the Population Policy Concern Group, says there is a big gap between what the government says to what the people feel. He said the government failed to take into account citizens' views.

"The streets are full of shops selling cosmetics, electronics, gold jewellery and pharmacies," he said. "Citizens are angry about the elimination of shops which cater to their needs."

Tourism heads, including Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung and tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing thought So's estimates were reasonable and that there should be more hotels in rural areas.

The government also wants to encourage tourists to go to less conventional attractions and to Lantau. Isn't Disneyland there already? And what other places would mainlanders like to visit when they'd rather shop in Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok?

It really does seem like the government has thought out its tourism strategy and in particular how the city is going to cope with millions more visitors. Officials have no realization that Hong Kong is pretty much at capacity already -- but more importantly mainlanders are going elsewhere like Europe and North America to shop.

While Hong Kong may be their first destination abroad, it doesn't mean mainlanders will come back again and again. It's either the government's wishful thinking or belief that opening the city's doors even wider will gain more approval from Beijing...

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