We are, depending on whether you are the South China Morning Post or the Standard, evenly divided about Hong Kong hosting the 2023 Asian Games, or almost rabidly keen to chuck taxpayers’ billions away on pointless stadiums and an invasion of tiresome athletes. One cause for optimism, made public by Wikileaks, is that Al Qaeda put the Big Lychee on a list of possible targets during the Olympic Games in 2008, when the city hosted the mind-numbing equestrian events. With a bit of effort, right-minded people could surely persuade the undecided among us that to hold another sporting event here would be an open invitation to bombers and assassins spreading bloody mayhem in our streets, in addition to all the Wushu, Weiqi and Sepaktakraw players limbering up everywhere in their tracksuits.
However, it would make little difference. Clearly anticipating a rejection of their dastardly plot to swamp us with sportsmen and spectators, the government’s Department of Endless Inbound Human Inundation has signed an agreement with the authorities in Shenzhen to allow another four million of the Pearl River Delta’s sweatshop and other workers to squeeze themselves through the gate at Lowu and join the crush in Causeway Bay. Someone, somewhere hates Hong Kong with such a burning intensity that they will not rest until a billion or more mainlanders and others are poured upon us like a gallon of molasses into a thimble.
What have we done to deserve this collective punishment? Even God, when provoked by Sodom and Gomorrah in his wilder Genesis days, managed to restrain his wrath enough to rain no more than fire and brimstone down upon the sinful cities. If anything, rents and overcrowding would have come down. Yet the powers wreaking vengeance upon the Big Lychee are flooding us with greater wave after wave of tourists, filling our already cramped streets and driving small local businesses out in favour of international chains.
Has the Hong Kong government ever conducted a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of the tourism industry? Apparently not; policymakers simply take it as written that every extra person passing through immigration makes our city richer. But there is no reason to believe it.
We all pay for investment in infrastructure like the HK$8 billion white-elephant cruise terminal at Kai Tak. We all pay by suffering hidden effects of massed visitors like increased air pollution and traffic jams. We all pay when our useful local stores close down and are replaced by shops selling overpriced tat to tourists. On top of that, the owners and employees of those old outlets lose their businesses and jobs.
On the plus side, a new business opens and a (probably similar) number of jobs are created (though taking HK$8 billion out of the private-sector economy for a cruise terminal destroyed jobs as well). But the new store operator will be an international chain, and the profits will leave Hong Kong. So far, this looks like a net loss to the Big Lychee as a whole.
The key winners, however, are the landlords of the retail spaces, restaurants and hotels on the receiving end of the 3.5 million visitors (and rising) the city of 7 million inhabitants accommodates per month. The rest of us stump up for the infrastructure, breathe in the fumes and lose our neighbourhood stores, while the people renting out the real estate pocket the proceeds. In other words, once you strip the retail/wholesale middlemen out of the equation, the tourism industry is just an extension of the property scam – yet another way we all have to pay hidden taxes to the Li, Lee and Kwok families’ cartel. And a particularly pernicious one too; plenty of opinion-formers rail against real estate and supermarket ripoffs, but they would never dare suggest the ever-growing influx of precious visitors is a burden on all but the tycoons, above and beyond having to give directions to people with maps.
Scripture has always been a bit murky about what they actually got up to in Sodom and Gomorrah. Fornication is pretty much taken for granted, and if truth be told, some reports suggest that a bit of that might occur here in Hong Kong from time to time. There is also the matter of going after strange flesh, which many Christian thinkers interpret as meaning sexual deviance (they’re obsessed with it) but could mean consumption of uncommon species, such as – say – pangolin or sea slug, in which case we possibly have a problem. But surely we don’t deserve this.