Business / Industries

HK anti-tourist protest good for no one

By William Daniel Garst (China Daily) Updated: 2014-02-25 08:17

More mystifying is why the latest protest targeted tourists shopping at Canton Road. This street is lined with luxury stores, and it is hard to imagine that by patronizing such establishments, foreign shoppers are depriving Hong Kong residents of essential goods. The money foreign tourists spend is vital for the well-being of these businesses, and the same can be said about the economy of Hong Kong in general. Tourism accounts for 4.5 percent of Hong Kong's GDP and provides jobs to about 600,000 people. It is now regarded as one of the four "pillar" industries of the metropolis, alongside logistics and transportation, finance, and professional services.

HK anti-tourist protest good for no one

HK anti-tourist protest good for no one

Tourists from the mainland play a key role in supporting Hong Kong's tourism sector; they are expected to comprise 75 percent of the 59 million people likely to visit the city this year. This overall number of tourists represents a double-digit increase over the previous year's figure. And by 2030 the annual number of tourists to Hong Kong is expected to touch 100 million, the majority of whom will be mainland residents.

According to media reports, a Hong Kong government report claiming the city can cope with this influx of visitors was one of the reasons for the latest protest against tourists. In response to public skepticism about this claim, some Hong Kong politicians have called for a border-arrival tax.

This pandering to anti-tourism hysteria is a disservice to Hong Kong. A border tax is first of all unworkable-if directed only at tourists, many would evade it by claiming to be business travelers and carrying forged documents to prove that. The move would also divert tourists away from Hong Kong, harming the local economy and flying in the face of the city's long-standing openness. Visits to ecologically sensitive nature sites in the city should certainly be controlled. But Hong Kong is a large metropolis with a well-developed infrastructure, and city officials are right in believing that it can absorb more visitors.

Also, increasing numbers of mainland tourists are opting for bare-bones individual travel in the "rough" mode. For example, one of my close friends, a delightful 20-something woman from Henan province recently returned from an extended trip to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. She stayed in hostels and eschewed shopping in favor of taking in the sights, including less touristy but worthy places. Her total expenses for the vacation: less than 10,000 yuan ($1,642).

Moreover, one can be a bit skeptical about whether the predicted future flood of mainland tourists to Hong Kong will really materialize. Although many mainland residents still travel just to shop-few places are better for that than Hong Kong-this behavior is changing, which can be seen in the surging popularity of adventure travel and eco-tourism.

The frictions between some Hong Kong residents and mainland tourists are similar to the experiences of other "rude" tourists' decades ago. Playing up or politicizing the frictions will not help Hong Kong tourism and eventually hurt local residents' interests.

The author is an American corporate trainer.

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