Comment and Analysis
The Hong Kong Tourism Board has long promoted Hong Kong as a Shopper's Paradise.
So it's a bit strange to hear James Tien, Chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, describing visitors from mainland China as “non-conventional tourists” that come to Hong Kong to shop rather than visit its tourist attractions.
Gee. I always thought that Hong Kong's street markets and shopping malls were among the city's top tourism draws – right up there with the Peak Tram and the Star Ferry. Either I'm mistaken or James hasn't read the marketing materials produced by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
While I don't have any statistics to back me up on this, I have a sneaking suspicion that visitors to Hong Kong from such places as Australia, Japan, and the United States spend more money at the city's street stalls and in shops, boutiques, and stores than they do at Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park.
Multiple Entry Permits
James' remarks came after it was announced that Shenzhen's 4.1 million non-permanent residents would join the city's 2.8 million permanent residents in being able to apply for multiple entry permits to visit Hong Kong without having to return to their place of origin.
The new law went into effect on 1 September 2012, and mainland arrivals in Hong Kong are expected to jump 20% as a result.
The move has proved hugely unpopular in Hong Kong, where many people fear an influx of mainland day trippers, who will overburden the transport system and buy up precious stocks of powdered milk and baby formula, among other prized commodities.
I really don't get it.
While there might be some validity to the transport issue, what's wrong with mainlanders coming here to buy things that are much cheaper here than they are at home? Isn't that what Hong Kong – with its much treasured status as a free port – is all about?
Aren't bargains what make Hong Kong tick? Isn't that what put Hong Kong on the global tourism map in the first place? Isn't that what makes Hong Kong one of the world's top travel destinations? Isn't that why the Hong Kong Tourism Board refers to Hong Kong as a "shopper's paradise"?
Re-selling for a Profit
Whether visitors use the things they buy in Hong Kong themselves or re-sell them at a profit after they return to Shenzhen, what difference does it make to people in Hong Kong? As long as these mainlanders are buying things and not stealing them, they are contributing to Hong Kong's economy.
To the people who complain that mothers in Hong Kong can't buy baby formula because visitors from the mainland buy it all up, I say, “Why don't shop owners in Hong Kong simply import more baby formula? If they did, they could make more money!”
To the people that complain that mainland tourists are forcing up prices and rents in Hong Kong, I say, “Haven't Hong Kong people been doing that on the mainland for years?”
Tit for Tat
Many people in Hong Kong frequently travel to Shenzhen, and few of them do so in a capacity that James would consider to be “conventional tourists”. They don't go to Shenzhen to visit the city's amusement parks (there are several) or its zoo or its lovely beach resorts or its secluded mountain hideaways.
Most Hong Kong people go to Shenzhen to buy cheap goods, eat cheap food, and get cheap massages. And now 4.1 million Shenzheners are going to be able to do what Hong Kongers have been able to do for years – cross the border in search of bargains.
The bottom line is that some things are cheaper here than there, and other things are cheaper there than here. Isn't it natural for people to go a bit out of their way in search of a better price?
To me it seems like a simple issue of tit for tat.