Business / Opinion

HK would benefit from more tolerance

By Hong Liang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-02-27 07:19

A small group of people in Hong Kong tarnished the city's image by gathering in a busy shopping district with megaphones last weekend and hurling verbal abuse at mainland tourists. The local government was quick to condemn the incident, which was motivated more by bigotry than by any genuine grievance.

Many Hong Kong people complain about the crowds of tourists in the streets and on public transport, especially the MTR. There have also been complaints that bulk purchases by mainland tourists have pushed up prices of a wide range of consumer goods.

To be sure, the influx of tourists, mainly from the mainland, is causing some disruptions to the daily lives of local people in the city. Such disruptions are particularly obvious in the few commercial districts where fashion outlets catering to tourists have crowded out the many small shops and eateries that were frequented by local customers.

HK would benefit from more tolerance

HK would benefit from more tolerance

But an "invasion" by tourists is not unique to Hong Kong. Shanghai, for instance, plays host to a daily crowd of tourists from around the region and beyond. Most Shanghai people have learned to accommodate them rather than reject them, although they, too, have their fair share of complaints.

If you live in Shanghai for a while, you very quickly learn to avoid going to the tourist hotspots, such as the Bund district or the Yuyuan area around the Temple of the City God. Indeed, Shanghai people have willingly surrendered these districts to tourists, and quite a few Shanghai natives have never been to these places.

There is really little reason why local people need to jostle with the tourist crowds in Hong Kong. Instead of Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui, local consumers can frequent areas such as Wanchai or the old town in the western district where few tourists venture.

Some cities, notably Venice, have economies that depend heavily on the income generated by tourists. Hong Kong is not one of them, but tourism is still an important contributor to economic growth, although the return on investment in tourism is a question that has been open to debate for years. There have been no shortage of critics, who charge that the money spent on the Disneyland project, the biggest government investment in promoting tourism, could have been better used to improve the infrastructure in Hong Kong and bring real benefits to the local people.

But the fact is that investment has been made and tourists are coming in droves to spend. In doing so, they have helped create many jobs for local people in various business sectors, including catering, retail and entertainment.

Yet despite the benefits tourism brings to the city, more and more Hong Kong people are asking how much more strain the infrastructure can take from the influx of visitors before it reaches breaking point. Although the local government has said it is aware of the issue, it has offered no solutions.

The private sector is doing its best to cash in on the influx of tourists by converting old office complexes and industrial buildings into hostels. New shopping malls are being built and old residential buildings near the commercial districts are being converted into multistory shops and fancy boutiques.

Nobody seems to know how many tourists are too many. The Venetians never complain about the invasion of tourists, and people in Shanghai have accepted, albeit grudgingly, the daily throngs of people from "the outside". Hong Kong people should learn that some tolerance will let them reap more benefits from tourism.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily.

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