Tourism ranks among four core pillar industries. Last year, there were over 48 million visitors, of which 34 million alone came from the Mainland. The industry estimates that tourism provides over 600,000 jobs and brings some HK$270 billion gross income to Hong Kong across many sectors. Tourism is an integral part of the economy and employment. We may recall that recovery from SARS was led by revival of the retail market with individual travellers from the Mainland.
Unfortunately, our facilities and hospitality could not keep pace with the phenomenal growth in visitors, particularly Mainlanders. In turn, they give rise to economic and social frictions as well as undue disruptions to the public, like cultural conflicts, cross-border couriers and overloaded amenities. All these issues deserve proper attention and prompt resolution. That said I do not agree to holding up tourism development simply because of these conflicts.
Actually, the other pillar industries have their own complexity. Logistics is losing competitiveness and has dropped out of the global top three. Finance is confronted by strong rivals and future is cause for concern. Growth in business and professional services has not been encouraging in recent years and would remain unimpressive as well. Only tourism is a devoted pillar having uninterrupted growth. In light of falling competitiveness and imbalanced development of the economy, it is unwise to arbitrarily hold back tourism. This is tantamount to committing suicide.
As mentioned earlier, concerns have arisen from surging Mainland visitors, in particular “undeclared cross-border export couriers” or simply export couriers. They are most disruptive to residents of New Territories North. Moreover, parents are most dissatisfied with their sweeping purchase of baby milk powder all over Hong Kong. It needs no elaboration. Some propose to abolish multiply entry permit and even to recentralize approval of individual travellers. In my view, they are misplacing cart and horse. It simply means that all visitors would be penalized for the misconduct of a few. This is inequitable in a free society, and it fails to differentiate genuine visitors and export couriers.
Our target is to curb “illegal” exports not visitors. Actually, our recent efforts like “limitation order” for milk powder “exports” and arrest of activists has been productive. If courier activists are excessively disruptive to residents of New Territories North, we should press for law enforcement, public order or even arrest, to curb illegal activities at all fronts. In longer term, we might develop large malls at border controls and vicinity for cross-border shoppers. These are examples of proactive solutions. Barring Mainlanders is a dumb idea. It would not only unproductive to both sides but also unduly intensify conflicts.
Admittedly, cultural difference is source of frictions that might lead to confrontations. It deserves special attention. Frankly, some Mainlanders are vociferous, discourteous or even uncivilized in behaviors. They are indeed unwelcome. Yet, it is only fair to say that they are the minority. In my view, with universal education and convergence with international community, their improvements are forthcoming. The current situation resembles Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s when Hongkongers were often criticized as ill-mannered in overseas tours. Nowadays, we seldom hear such comments. Meanwhile, the Government should take the initiative to promote visitor manners and it proves to be productive. For instance, Hong Kong imposes heavy fines on littering. Visitors are well informed on arrival. In recent years, there have been fewer cases of Mainlanders being fined for littering and spitting. Similarly, if the Government steps up promotion through travel agents and border control to remind visitors of prohibitive manners and behaviors like urinating in public (which would be prosecuted), it would help discourage improper conducts.
Meanwhile, Tourist Police deserves consideration, given experiences abroad like Seoul where a 101-strong Unit has been commissioned earlier. Apart from tourist protection, I believe, they would also help maintain public order among visitors. Although it is demanding of inputs, it would certainly help reduce occurrence of conflicts between visitors and citizens. It would also help curb tourism scams. In a nutshell, the idea is worthy of further study.
On the question of overloaded amenities, it is undeniable that our tourist facilities are aging and inadequate. Improvements are badly needed. In this relation, I would like to comment particularly on the proposed third runway of the airport.
According to original plan, the two airport runways would reach capacity of 68 landings and take-offs per hour by 2018. However, the latest operations figure is already 64 due to surging passenger and freight services. Thus, capacity might come as early as 2015. If runway constraint were prolonged, demand for air services would not be met. Shortage of seats would push up airfares and adversely affect tourism. Of course, commerce and business would not be immune. Thus, the third runway is a definite and pressing necessity.