As a glance around the Macau ferry cabin shows, if you put a Mainland tourist in a seat on some form of transportation he or she will almost instantly fall asleep, whatever the time of day. So you’d have thought they’d be happy to spend the night in a bus – a stationary one, indeed, for extra comfort. But apparently not.
The big story in Hong Kong today is the trauma faced by an elegant Manchurian-visaged lady from all the way up in Jilin, who felt she hadn’t really stayed in Hong Kong, what with one night being spent in a parked coach after a tour group mishap. Meanwhile, Ocean Park turned visitors away for the second day running when it filled up. The tourism lobby’s response is to plead for more attractions; legislator Yiu Si-wing says, in effect, screw the Hong Kong people’s need for affordable homes, and use land to build some idiotic fake ‘Shaolin’ monastery for his parasitical industry.
As it happens, the Chinese New Year five-day weekend started off with Tourism Commissioner Philip Yung indicating that it is dawning on the Hong Kong government that the city needs to do something about this deluge of visitors. Officials will, he says, review the capacity of immigration, hotel and other tourist facilities. Tellingly, he feels a need to warn us not to assume that they will consider curbing the individual visit regime that gives many Mainlanders multiple entry access to the Big Lychee. For that is, indeed, what 99% of us will want to assume.
A quick glance at the Tourism Commission reveals a rather motley assemblage of bureaucrats tasked with facilitating, liaising, liaising and facilitating all manner of superfluous projects designed to attract yet more and more tourists into the Big Lychee. One of them also has to ‘housekeep’ the HK Tourism Board, which does the marketing and publicity flimflam devoted to the same gruesome aim; another coordinates MICE tourism initiatives. With such exciting, meaningful empires to run, they will side with the landlord/retail/hotel lobby rather than the community, and focus on expanding capacity rather than tackling the demand side.
The fact that both the commercial and bureaucratic interests accept that there is a problem is important. They are implicitly admitting that our sacred tourism industry imposes costs as well as benefits. They are also, reluctantly, highlighting some key questions. How many more Mainland visitors can we realistically cram into this city? There must be a physical limit to the number of traders crisscrossing the border with tons of stuff as absurd as instant noodles. (Seriously: how much profit can you make on that?) There are only so many shoppers of fashion, cosmetics and gold you can cram onto the sidewalks of Causeway Bay and Tsimshatsui. Cake shops, Lantau campsites, the Mid-Levels Escalator and a thousand other spots can only handle so many bodies.
And, more philosophically, who is the city for? Before 1997, officials assured us that strict immigration controls at the border were to be a vital ingredient in ensuring ‘50 years, no change’. Just as we wouldn’t have to share tax revenues with the Mainland, nor would we have to share our territorial space. Call it selfish or less-than-patriotic, but that’s what the Basic Law said. What happened to that?
Our politicians are mostly too busy reporting Chief Executive CY Leung to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on what seems like a weekly basis, but if they could spare the time there would surely be a receptive audience for some serious solutions to an unsustainable problem that profits a small handful at the expense of the rest of us. Shut Disneyland down, and use the space for housing; it would solve the ‘land shortage’ at a stroke, and transport links are even already in place. Impose a hefty tax on luxury crap, and to hell with that ‘free port’ reputation, which was originally about opium anyway. Induce Beijing to scrap the Mainland’s taxes and duties on imports and luxuries, which it will sometime – probably just after the Tourism Commission has made us pay for extra immigration halls and other infrastructure that will subsequently go unused.
The list could go on. There is even a name for it, courtesy of the Urban Dictionary, a compilation of contemporary slang and usage …
Counter-tourism (n.) Offensive measures taken to deter, prevent and respond to tourism.
Before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics began, all the manhole covers in and around the city were welded open as a counter-tourism measure.