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'DIY tourists' swarm to HK, Macao
( 2003-08-21 08:50) (China Daily HK Edition)

The anticipated crowd did not materialize at the Entry and Departure Management Bureau of the Guangzhou Public Security Building on Jiefang Road. Yet the air was filled with excitement as the first applicants got their permits Wednesday morning to tour Hong Kong and Macao as individuals.

First Guangzhou DIY tourist: He Yanchang  proudly displays the permit making her the first Guangzhou citizen to visit Hong Kong and Macao on an individual basis, August 20, 2003. [newsphoto.com.cn]

He Yanchang, a middle-aged insurance agent, was the first Guangzhou citizen to be granted the permit. She would visit Hong Kong together with her husband and daughter, and planned to stay there for two or three days.

Several new permit holders rushed to Guangzhou East Railway Station to catch the 9:50 am express train bound for Kowloon.

Wednesday marked the first day when permanent residents of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Huizhou were allowed to tour the two special administrative regions without joining tour groups.

The four cities handled a total of 5,418 applications for Hong Kong and Macao visits Wednesday, with 3,000 from Guangzhou, according to Xinhua news agency.

The cities of Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Jiangmen in Guangdong have already carried out the new travel arrangement, which will be extended to residents of Beijing and Shanghai starting September 1.

From 7 am to 9 am Wednesday as many as 600 of these DIY tourists lined up at Shenzhen's Luohu Customs for departure. Although six special lanes were opened, the wait was still around an hour.

A survey shows that most individual tourists departed for Hong Kong at Luohu and Huanggang in Shenzhen; most of those leaving for Macao chose Gongbei.

Guangdong customs have suspended all vacation days for staff members and opened all 66 of the departure lanes to manage the extra human flow.

In Guangzhou, the authority added 200 people to the handling of these tourists. Sixteen more application stations with 65 more windows were added, almost doubling the original capacity for application processing.

Guangzhou media has been advising against joining the "early birds", which reportedly helped in diffusing the application crowd.

But applicants as well as travellers are expected to grow significantly in number in the next few weeks.

A local travel agency is pushing for a Hong Kong weekend getaway tailored for these DIY tourists. "The beauty of this programme is, it's affordable to everyone," said one agent.

To cope with the growing number of outbound tourists, the Guangdong tourism department and public security and immigration authorities are planning to set up an advanced warning mechanism. Under the mechanism, prediction, data collection and monitoring will be done regularly and advanced warnings issued accordingly. Information such as the number of applications and daily flow of visitors to the two SARs will be announced through the media and on the Internet.

Discussion on more hotel rooms

The Hong Kong government promised Wednesday to study hotel developers' request to build more hotel rooms.

Secretary for Economic Development & Labour Stephen Ip Wednesday met with developers, who are keen to go ahead with developments because they are optimistic more tourists will come to Hong Kong in the years ahead.

"We have heard the view of the developers and we will follow up with the departments concerned," Ip said.

According to developers' estimates, about 12,000 additional rooms will be available in the next two years.

Ip said if all the planning applications are approved and materialize, there will be another 20,000 hotel rooms coming on-stream soon. "Altogether we may be talking about over 30,000 additional rooms in the next five years," Ip said.

Hong Kong now has over 42,000 hotel rooms.

HK to jail employers hiring illegal workers

The Hong Kong SAR's security chief said Tuesday he was not worried about the security issues that will result from a large additional influx of mainland tourists.

However, Ambrose Lee, the new Secretary for Security, called on judges to hand out stiffer penalties, including jail terms, to employers hiring illegal workers.

The get-tough move was needed, he said, to curb the malpractice that is bound to run rampant under the new travelling measure.

Lee's remarks, made in a radio programme, came at a time when Hong Kong is seeing the gradual relaxation of restrictions on mainland visitors.

Lee expected that the number of arrivals of mainland visitors this year would jump to 10 million as a result of the new measure.

With such a massive inflow of mainlanders, there will certainly be more cases of violation of the conditions of stay, he said.

Yet, statistical figures have shown that only three out of every 10,000 two-way permit holders would violate laws, comparable to people from other parts of the world in Hong Kong. He called on members of the public not to discriminate against mainland tourists.

According to Lee, there will be several levels of checks against the abuse of the travelling privilege.

The first one is the mainland security departments which will not issue passes to those who have criminal records in the SAR. Then suspicious travellers will be screened out at the border, while Hong Kong's immigration and police officers will mount massive operations at construction sites and catering premises to round up illegal workers.

Lee observed that current laws against employing illegal workers are already quite stringent. Yet judges have been too lenient when meting out punishments to such employers.

He suggested imprisonment as a deterrent in addition to fines. He said he would relay his views to the courts through the Department of Justice.

The Commissioner of Police Tsang Yam-pui said on another occasion that the police have met with their mainland counterparts to strengthen co-operation in preventing criminals from using the new measure to sneak into the territory.

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