The joys of charging non-residents more

One quick way of reducing Hong Kong’s air pollution would be to raise cross-harbour tunnel tolls. The main (Causeway Bay-Hung Hom) tunnel’s toll has been HK$20/HK$10 for cars/taxis for what seems like decades. Increase that charge, say, fivefold and cut the other tunnels’ fees by a few bucks, and you would almost certainly migrate a lot of commuters onto buses (currently underutilized) and trains, and spread the rest out onto the less popular routes, thus reducing congestion significantly. It won’t happen because assorted vocal scumbags who want to leech off the rest of the population one way or another would wet themselves about the ‘unfairness’ of it all and the supposed impact on their sorry livelihoods.

By contrast, the charges for non-residents at public hospitals went up relatively recently – a mere nine years ago. As for residents, these are flat-rate per-day fees in basic categories like out-patient, in-patient and intensive care; you do not get an itemized bill for each test, procedure or drug. The decision to raise the charges for what are mainly in practice visitors and not for locals seems a bit illogical – if costs rise, they rise for all users. Since raising the rock-bottom hospital bills for entitlement-minded residents would be near-impossible, the obvious thing to do would be to just leave this whole area alone.

For some reason, officials want to go ahead and push up non-residents’ charges. If the only people affected were tourists, it would be no big deal. But Mainland spouses of Hong Kong residents count as non-res. Cue a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, as affected Hongkongers complain that it’s ‘unfair’ and Chief Executive CY Leung’s enemies in the Legislative Council pounce with glee on another policy to fight to the death over.

On the face of it, Mainland spouses are indeed non-residents, so should be treated as such, and the Court of Final Appeal endorsed the principle earlier this year (concerning maternity fees). However, the disgruntled have a point. If a Hongkonger marries someone from Timbuktu, Greenland or Tahiti, the spouse gets to live here instantly with an ID card, thus cheap local hospital bills. Marry a Mainlander, and your spouse joins a lengthy waiting list to come here. It is hard to see why the government is choosing this particular fight. Maybe the idea is just to burden Legco’s oppose-everything brigade with yet more causes.

Far better to clamp down on the great tourism menace. I’m not sure what free meds columnist Lau Nai-keung is getting from Queen Mary’s these days, but his lapses into lucidity seem to be getting more frequent – to the extent that we’re in danger of missing the rabid mouth-frothing venom and hate of past times. In an article on thinking out of the box, he questions the value of the tourism industry and asks why no-one proposes slapping a hefty tax on all the designer-label junk visitors buy, so at least we get some revenue out of it (and hopefully drive some of the crowds away).

Hong Kong has long been in a trance about tourism. Years of official boasting about rising visitor numbers have left people unable to imagine that the industry might cost most of us more than it’s worth.

The equation for finding out would start with what visitors spend, then subtracting how much of it promptly leaves the city’s economy (most of it, given that we don’t manufacture the junk). You would also include luxury retailers’ higher rents, at least some of which will also end up overseas as part of big landlords’ offshore investment portfolios. And you would add luxury retail outlet staff’s incomes, minus what they were earning before the tourism boom drove their locally-oriented employers out of business.

Then we get to the fun part: the externalities. This includes the costs arising from the extra pollution caused by tour buses, like the medical treatment of additional cases of pulmonary diseases. It includes the cost of cleaning up the wee-wee and other items deposited in public areas by tourists. It includes the cost of extra time it takes locals to buy things they need after their local shops close down, or the higher prices for infant formula in their neighbourhood. And of course it includes the rising rents that surviving locally-oriented retailers pass on to us. Then there is the mental stress, as I, and a million others, get increasingly irritated at having to drag Japanese, European and the inevitable Mainlanders out of the way every time I go to my local 7-Eleven for a few cans of drink. (I can say “Who said you can come to this neighbourhood?” in Korean, Italian and Polish.)

Net outcome, probably: a few landlords and luxury brands are raking in billions that won’t trickle down, some retail workers might have seen a pay rise, while the other 98% of us are net financial losers – subsidizing the landlords and designer labels. It’s a parasite industry, and we should start spraying some DDT. This is a battle nearly all parts of the non-tycoon part of the population could agree on. But it’s ‘a pillar industry’, and ‘less tourists = more wealth’ is too counterintuitive for most people to bear.

At least we could put cross-harbour tunnel tolls up for non-residents.

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15 Responses to The joys of charging non-residents more

  1. Joe Blow says:

    Has it occurred to you that in maybe a few years time the swarms of locusts will have vanished ? Remember the Japanese tourist-tsunami of the 1980s ? The day may come that locals will look back fondly at the time that Putongwa was the official language of Causeway Bay.

  2. Lois Beluga, J says:

    As my colleague said in 1988: “In 1997 these people will disappear up their own behinds”. And lo, it came to pass that the giant all-consuming orifice arrived

    The average Mainland visitor is only at worst on a par with the average scumbag Lumpenproletarier of Kwun Tong. Why all the fuss?

    If you want to see Halloween any day of the year, go see the locals of Yau Ma Tei when the first dai pai dongs open in the evening.

    No, those disturbing. ghost-like, withered, starved and self-abused Neolithic countenances are not masks, they are people’s faces, much more disturbing than busloads of so-called “locusts”.

    The situation in Hong Kong is as they say in Switzerland…De Bauer isch riech gworde….the peasant has grown rich. But there are still a lot of peasants in Hong Kong.

    It’s unfair to despise reasonably well-behaved visitors in nice clothes, trying to have a nice break in Cantoland. It’s also fun to watch.

  3. Jonathan Stanley says:

    I lived in Happy Valley in the 1980’s and whilst I do recall Japanese tourists, I don’t recall them making life intolerable.

    So I Googled for some tourism numbers by Japanese visitors…

    http://bit.ly/U5vvWS

    In 1985 and prior, annual number of visitors from Japan was under 0.5 million. From 1985 to 1995, it crept up to 1.5 million. In the final two years of “British Hong Kong”, it lept up to just short of 2.5 million. Per annum.

    The number of Mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong is current running at 4 million… per-frickin’-month!

    If the Japanese was a tsunami… what of the Mainland Chinese?

  4. stanley gibbons says:

    Q f the Japanese was a tsunami… what of the Mainland Chinese?

    A A gigantic burst septic tank

  5. Dr Honeyflower Dreedle says:

    This article shows signs of Irritable Gwailo Syndrome.

    I am at the New Age Shop at present offering courses in colonic channeling, rebirthing, stress reduction and nose candling.

    I also do home visits.

  6. EDB says:

    To follow up on Bella’s point (I think?) and for RTP’s edification:

    http://shanghaiist.com/2012/12/17/photos_hong_kongs_claustrophobic_sh.php#photo-1

    And a (ostensibly at least) wealthy society that allows, conservatively, 280,000 of its citizens to ‘live’ in those conditions has the nerve to condescend to Mainlanders, Filipinos, Westerners, etc.

    But, RTP, I know, I know, IT’S GETTING BETTER …..

  7. Stephen says:

    Our ever so cautious little bureaucrats, so beholden to big business, have never really figured out the big picture in regard to China. It’s almost as if there’s unofficial policy to fudge the whole issue and hope it all goes away in 2047. Trouble is that date is thirty four and a half years away. So what to do in the meantime?

    Rimsky’s big idea is to throw the whole thing to China now (and to make it palatable to the masses throw in the brown people as well). As to the tourists, which our big cartels are gorging on at the moment, which are distorting our economy well it seems the bureaucrats aren’t sure about that yet.

    What a piss poor excuse for an administration we have in Hong Kong …

  8. Will.I.Am says:

    Hong Kong may well become the first geographic location on earth where the premise of “too many people per square mile” is put to the test. A weekend jaunt to MK turned into a complete nightmare. Never seen such masses spilling out of doorways stairways throughways in my life. The phyisicsl infrastructure is literally cracking from the sheer amount of humanity being squeezed through the sausage maker. Realy wonder how many people are physically in the city on any given day…. 8 million? 9? 10?

  9. Joe Blow says:

    @JS: My angle was that the large number of tourists (Japanese then, Mainlanders now) and their spending power should not be taken for granted. Once they don’t come and spend anymore some people will be scratching their ass and say, “Gee, where did they go….?”. (never mind Hemlock’s whinge: his logic is flawed).

  10. Property Developer says:

    The trouble is — am I beginning to sound as Panglossian as Dr RTP? — if we strip away our property- and tourism-based industries, what’s left for us to do? The essence of a service-based economy is to take in other people’s dirty washing, without complaining too much about the smells and stains.

    If the buses are a problem, just wait for the private cars…

  11. Failed Alchemist says:

    A big trading company once told me, “anything the mainlanders touch will go from boom to bust like red wine, property, stock market etc.” The world won’t let go of this new opiate that is giving us a new lease of life.

    But sadly, the Liberal Party stands between Hong Kong’s future (translated “success”) or her failure. The impotent Tourism Board run by Selena, then subsequently James are the worst idiots around. Tons of money spend overseas attracting foreign tourist whether from Japan, South East Asia/Pacific or the Americas only be told by the dismal figures that the bulk of today’s tourist are from the Mainland. It was a shortcut to quickly to fill the numbers & impress people who was willing to be hoodwink (read D Duck) while the TB’s spending kept going on for promotions, road shows etc.and redudant offices overseas.

    Thus the current imbalance in tourist makeup. We thrive as a multicultural metropolis. Think HK, think an international port sitting in the Orient. Now its just a backwater of Mainlanders, either for cheap shopping or to manipulate services that the city grants only to residents either by birth, marriage, professional expertise (read tax payer).

    We can tolerate a Japanese or that matter anyone that has some resemblance of culture – at least who doesn’t spit and shove their way to cue cutting or jumping for public services like transport, education & health welfare. The typical Mainlander has no clue why people are starting to get weary of them whether its HK or even Singapore.

    If people still think that dear Henry would have been good for us, we seem to have forgotten that he is of the same cloth of the Liberal Party idiots like Miriam, Gregory So & Tommy Cheung. Red wine seemed to have benifitted HK for a short span but like what my friend says, “what they touch goes from boom to bust.” Unfortunately, the Liberals haven’t learnt their lesson when it comes to tourism, the catering sector & struggling SME’s.

  12. Chimp says:

    “The average Mainland visitor is only at worst on a par with the average scumbag Lumpenproletarier of Kwun Tong. Why all the fuss?

    If you want to see Halloween any day of the year, go see the locals of Yau Ma Tei when the first dai pai dongs open in the evening.

    No, those disturbing. ghost-like, withered, starved and self-abused Neolithic countenances are not masks, they are people’s faces, much more disturbing than busloads of so-called “locusts”.”

    Point taken… you don’t like Hong Kong people, unless they are of the “right sort”. Seriously, why do you put up with it? Return to the motherland.

  13. Walter De Havilland says:

    Oh dear. Lot of sad, middle aged, Expats moaning about Mainland tourists. I know what the responce from certain people will be “If you don’t like it, then leave.”

  14. stanley gibbons says:

    @ Walter

    I was here long before the locusts. All Honkies generally agree, not only sad ole’ expats.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-02lNhR8j0

    I ain’t leaving – just observing, noticing, and commenting. It’s a blog. It’s what it’s for.

  15. Walter De Havilland says:

    @Stanley. I agree old chap. I’ve also paid my dues and taxes for 35 years. Nonetheless, its easy to characterize us as sad old Expats harking back to better days.

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