Voice in Legco
Voice in Legco - Vigilance Needed Against Hindrance from Parochial Nativism to Reinvigorate Tourism Industry

The HKSAR Government must learn from mistakes and improve Hong Kong’s infrastructure to increase our capacity for tourists, and enhance education and publicity to stop radicals from advocating parochial nativism under the pretext of protest against nuisance caused by parallel traders.


Tourism industry sunk into adjustment period

The time of writing this article coincided with this year’s “National Day Golden Week”, which in the past was a golden period when tourists came in an endless stream. However, a downturn had long been predicted for this year given the sluggishness of Hong Kong’s tourism and retail industries. While the authorities had unexpectedly “reported good news” with figures showing the number of visitors to Hong Kong on the first day of the Golden Week had increased by 15.4% year-on-year, including the 16.2% year-on-year growth in visitors from the Mainland, industry insiders immediately pointed out that the figures had to be interpreted prudently. This is because many visitors were transit passengers and a few dozen thousands were Mainland students, accompanied by their parents, coming to Hong Kong to take the SAT College Admission Examination, so Hong Kong’s businesses might not  benefit from it. At the same time, Hong Kong’s total retail sales value dropped for six consecutive months, decreased by 5.4% year-on-year for August according to the latest released data, causing severe concerns in the industry.


In fact, the good time of continuous increase in the number of visitors to Hong Kong witnessed in recent years is already gone. The number has dropped for three consecutive months so far. August visitor arrivals fell by 6.6% year-on-year, with visitors from the Mainland falling by 7.1%. As a result, the hotel occupancy rate dropped and some tour guides had to either work under capacity or change jobs. The HKSAR Government confirmed that Hong Kong’s tourism industry has entered a “period of adjustment”. To salvage the situation, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau recently launched a HK$10 million matching fund to boost the promotion of Hong Kong’s tourist attractions abroad. But surprisingly, when all parties are trying to stimulate the tourism industry in order to safeguard employment, the movement to turn visitors away under the banner of nativism is ready to make trouble again, ignoring the interests of society as a whole.


Turning visitors away will make matters worse

In the first quarter of this year, taking advantage of the conflicts between the Mainland and Hong Kong arising from the rampant parallel trading activities in Hong Kong, nativist radicals specifically picked on Mainland visitors for barbaric acts such as physical and verbal abuse, which caused a public outcry at that time and consequentially the number of Mainland visitors to Hong Kong plummeted. This indeed is still fresh in the public’s memory. Out of a sudden, the so-called “Restoration Campaign” resurfaced after six months of silence.


In early September, two nativist groups once again initiated the “Recover Sheung Shui” demonstrations to protest against parallel traders. According to reports, many of the protesters were members of several radical groups. They not only chanted slogans at shops along shopping malls, but also hurled insults at opposing groups and shop employees. Some radical troublemakers called pharmacy employees “traitors”. Some were also waving the “Dragon and Lion Flag”. The pharmacies and goldsmiths had to hurry to pull down their shutters to guard against any eventualities. A few protesters were later arrested on suspicion of assaulting police officers.


Actually, with the Central Government tightening the visa requirements for Shenzhen residents to visit Hong Kong, i.e. changing from “multiple-entry ” to “one trip per week”, and the crackdown on parallel trading activities at the customs of Futian Port and Luohu Port in Shenzhen, road obstruction by parallel traders in Hong Kong has been greatly reduced. Therefore, it is quite surprising that the “Restoration Campaign” has resurfaced. Some commentators interpreted this as the result of nativist group members  preparing to participate in the District Council elections in November. So they wanted to provoke anti-Mainland sentiments by exploiting the district residents’ disgust at the nuisance of parallel trading activities. If this is true, such activities would increase unabatedly before the District Council elections in November.


Provoking sentiments through protest against parallel trading

In any case, I had earlier spoken up at the Legislative Council to severely condemn such parochial nativism which will only cause harm without any benefit whatsoever. As a cosmopolitan city and free trade economy, Hong Kong has always stressed on tolerance and respect for all, let alone our motherland’s compatriots. To put it bluntly, the “Exterminate Locusts Campaign” that blatantly discriminates against Mainlanders, the “Gau Wu Movement” that constantly stages hit-and-run protests on the streets and against shops and the “Restoration Campaign” that continually causes nuisance to Mainland visitors under the pretext of fighting parallel trading activities, although all have different names, are just extreme and parochial nativism at work to pull the whole society backwards. But if we give the wrong impression that the Hong Kong people would rather close and lock the door of Hong Kong and abandon  free economy, we will only be shooting ourselves in the foot.


Moreover, the tourism industry, as one of the four pillars of Hong Kong, is now facing a crisis, the public should redouble vigilance against agitators trying to use the conflicts between the Mainland and Hong Kong to stir up trouble. Those Legislative Council members who have joined to “pull suitcases” along the street to ridicule Mainland visitors should also mend their ways.


Reposition Hong Kong’s tourism industry

Admittedly, the plight of Hong Kong’s tourism industry today is due to many factors. Some are dictated by the macro-environment. For example, falling exchange rates in the neighbouring regions has led to prices in Hong Kong losing their attractiveness even though the merchandise is still of good quality, and many places have loosened visa requirements to attract Mainland visitors. With other tourist attractions also marketing themselves to compete for visitors, Hong Kong has ceased to be the preferred travel destination of Mainland visitors. It has been reported that the Mainland’s outbound travel market during this year’s National Day Golden Week expanded by more than 15% from last year. The most popular destinations were South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States, with South Korea and Japan far outstripping other places. However, the number of tourists interested in visiting Hong Kong dropped sharply. While the HKSAR Government may be unable to intervene in the external factors, it definitely has the capacity to deal with the local factors, including the lack of new ideas from tourist attractions that has long been plaguing the tourism industry, insufficient infrastructure and facilities, and unpleasant incidents targeted at Mainland visitors.


In conclusion, I believe that the HKSAR Government must learn from mistakes and improve Hong Kong’s infrastructure to increase our capacity for visitors, and enhance education and publicity to stop radicals from advocating parochial nativism under the pretext of protest against nuisance caused by parallel traders. At the same time, it must comprehensively review the positioning and future development of our tourism industry and identify the unique strengths that will enable Hong Kong to attract tourists so that this cosmopolitan city, like New York, Paris and Tokyo, can attract an endless stream of tourists all year round.


Should you have any comments on the article, please feel free to contact Mr Martin Liao.
Address : Rm 703, Legislative Council Complex, 1 Legislative Council Road, Central, Hong Kong Tel : 2576-7121
Fax : 2798-8802
Email: legco.office.liao@gmail.com