Time for Hong Kong's tourism industry to face the sad truth

Updated: 2016-12-19 08:56

By Li Tao(HK Edition)

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People barely hear good news from Hong Kong's two major theme parks in recent times.

Earlier this month, Ocean Park Hong Kong announced its first deficit since 2003, when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) hit the city. The park, reporting a 17.8-percent slump in revenue and a HK$241.1-million deficit during the fiscal year through June 30, blamed its loss on a sharp decline in mainland travelers as visitor numbers to the park were down 18.8 percent during the period.

It subsequently announced it will raise the admission fee by 13.8 percent from Jan 1, 2017 to shore up revenues, though Hong Kong residents will be charged the new rates only from March as a concession to locals.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, on the other hand, is rolling up its sleeves to upgrade its features and attractions in a six-year blueprint supported by HK$5.8 billion of taxpayers' money. Last year, the then sole Disney theme park in China registered a loss of HK$148 million, which was also attributed to declining popularity caused by fewer mainland visitors.

Both parks may have solid grounds to portray themselves as victims of a business sector affected by tension in the city which has stymied the influx of mainland visitors, even if they don't complain loudly about it. People are unlikely to find other places in Hong Kong - even the counters of luxury brand boutiques - where staff provide as welcoming and friendly service as Ocean Park and Disneyland do to their customers.

Time for Hong Kong's tourism industry to face the sad truth

But the two parks would be missing the point if they believed mainland travelers showed less desire to visit Hong Kong because the service here in the city was lousy and people were unfriendly to mainland travelers. In fact, mainland tourists are quite accustomed to unpleasant service, and they don't mind as long as the destination is new to them or provides their preferred products but at much bigger discounts.

That's why we see mainland people fill the Great Wall in Beijing and the City God Temple of Shanghai during every long holiday. If someone thought the service quality in Beijing was better than Hong Kong or the Shanghai people were friendlier to outsiders compared with Hong Kong people, I would not be able to keep a straight face!

We read lots of news about how travelers to Yunnan province have been mistreated or forced to shop by tour guides, or those to Sanya in Hainan province have been extorted through excessively high prices for normal services, such as in restaurants or taking a taxi. Moreover, if you don't move fast to book hotels for peak season, you may find yourself broke before you get there.

We also have mainland tourists swarming into foreign countries, who do not even know a word of the local language but are able to have great fun only shopping in the malls, armed with calculators or just pointing fingers. I am not sure if a tourist could enjoy the travel experience in a city where he is not even able to talk to a local resident, but the price tags are "cheerful" as they are always a lot cheaper than those back home.

It is true Hong Kong's two theme parks receive fewer mainland tourists as mainland people are traveling less to the city. But it's not the full story that mainland people have become less favorable toward Hong Kong due to cross-boundary tension; many mainland travelers who could afford to visit Hong Kong have already been to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is no longer a shopping paradise due to the appreciating local currency.

It may be the sad truth that the best times for Hong Kong's tourism industry are gone - and are not likely to come back in coming years when the Hong Kong dollar is likely to remain on an upward trend. Instead of anticipating a rebound of mainland tourists for no good reason, the local parks had better consider doing better budget management and eyeing more local people.

(HK Edition 12/19/2016 page1)