Tourist industry fears over falling visitor numbers

Updated: 2015-04-21 07:50

By Eddy Li(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong's tourist industry has been concerned about the drop in mainland visitor numbers during the Chinese New Year holidays. Recently, these concerns in the industry increased after the number of mainland visitors dropped by 25 percent during the Easter and Ching Ming Festival holidays - traditionally a best period for tourism.

There has also been a 20 percent decrease in the number of tour groups coming to Hong Kong from mainland. What is also of considerable concern is that there has also been a fall in the number of visitors from Southeast Asia, Europe and the US.

This has had a considerable impact on the catering and retail industries. It has been estimated that in April the catering industry, alone, suffered losses worth HK$200 million. Some are predicting that future retail industry losses stand to be even more devastating. So, it is not surprising that the current situation has been compared with the dismal period during the SARS outbreak 12 years ago. People are worried that if this bleak trend continues, the traditional "golden" week holiday around Labor Day in May, will also not provide any relief to businesses.

I believe the reason for the significant reduction in tourists is due to incidents which occurred earlier this year. This included verbal abuse toward visitors and protests in shopping areas. Such behavior was widely broadcast and spread via the media and Internet. It made a negative impression on the mainland, but also in other countries. Some expressed their anger. A group of mainland travelers visiting France for business, while on a connecting flight to this city, wore a slogan across their shoulders, saying: "I don't shop in Hong Kong". This reflects the outrage many mainland people feel about recent incidents which have occurred in Hong Kong. What is worse, the violent protests against visitors were reported by the international media. This meant people overseas also learnt about the insensitive behavior Hong Kong people have shown visitors recently. If foreign tourists start to feel Hong Kong is an uncivilized city, the negative consequences will impact on many other industries.

Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Zhang Dejiang noted that as cooperation and communication develops between Hong Kong and the mainland, it is only natural that some friction will develop between people with different lifestyles and backgrounds. We need to analyze these problems carefully. We should not over-react to these events in order to prevent mischievous people from continuing to stir up the public. I hope people from both political camps in Hong Kong are aware of the seriousness of this.

Since the Chinese New Year holidays, the number of mainland visitors has been falling. This is upsetting; travelling, after all, is all about having fun. But we need to remember that Hong Kong is not the only place mainland people like to visit. They can easily go to other places.

Anti-parallel trading protests have done great damage to inbound tourism. The government should now try every means at its disposal to stop the decline in visitor arrivals. The first priority is to mend the damage caused by the anti-parallel trading protests. This is not an easy task.

It has been revealed that the Hong Kong Tourism Board and related sectors are sparing no effort in trying to attract tourists. They are working together and coming up with favorable measures to attract visitors in order to revitalize the tourism industry. The most important task is to stop illegal protests against parallel trading. Stricter law enforcement by police and heavier punishments by the courts are clearly needed. Otherwise, the troublemakers will continue undeterred. This will harm Hong Kong's reputation as an international city and a shopping paradise.

Tourist industry fears over falling visitor numbers

(HK Edition 04/21/2015 page10)