Tourism madness

Hong Kong has been in a state of numbed shock over the weekend after Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Gregory So forecasted a possible doubling of tourist arrivals to 100 million a year within a decade. The next three years alone, he said, would bring a rise in annual visitors from last year’s 54.3 million to 70 million. As an ‘open port’, he said, the city cannot set a limit on these numbers, even though residents might have to ‘wait for the next train’ because of overcrowding on the transport system.

A scientifically proven fact for So: you can’t get a quart into a pint pot. So’s colleague Development Secretary Paul Chan stated what ordinary residents all know by pointing out that tourist spots are already saturated. Chan also conceded that somewhere among all the malls and theme parks, the city might need to find a bit of space for its own people to live in.

Perhaps one solution would be to build a giant warehouse right on the Hong Kong side of the border, with an entrance and exit on the Shenzhen side. After standing in line for 72 hours, the Mainland shoppers would go in, have a large funnel inserted into their mouths, and stand on a conveyor belt that passes through 10 feeding stations on each of 20 levels (15 of them below ground). At each station, the shopper would halt for a few seconds while items are pumped into his or her gullet – first baby milk powder, then handbags, then gold necklaces and Buddha statues, then Aguemar Piglet diamond tourbillion watches, then designer-label golfer’s underpants, then skin-whitening cream, then more infant formula, then a box of Lyndhurst Terrace egg tarts, washed down with lashings of Yakult, then more Ralph Lauren golfing underwear, then guaranteed non-fake cordyceps, then (anything I’ve missed?) several other exciting leading luxury brands of each of the above exclusive goods all over again, before he or she is spat out at the end and rolls down to the high-speed rail terminus to be whizzed back to sunny Wenzhou or wherever. A throughput of 11,000 an hour, 24 hours a day, would handle the 100 million.

To put the figure in perspective, Thailand last year accommodated some 26.7 million tourists, for which it has 198,000 square miles of space, versus Hong Kong’s 420 square miles. Even the world’s top destination, France (211,000 square miles) has 80-something million tourists a year. Clearly the number ‘100 million’ is sheer insanity; it won’t happen because it can’t. Local inhabitants will be confiscating tourists’ purchases and burning them and smashing the windows of luxury goods stores by the time the number hits 70 million, and lynching would become a daily occurrence by – I would guess – around 85 million.

So why are our officials coming up with this figure (let’s assume that Paul Chan blurted out a snatch of inescapable reality because he hadn’t received the Line To Take)?

One possible reason is to mollify the ‘tourism sector’; this parasite industry crowds out other economic activities to feed landlords, most of whom happen to be the same families that comprise the property cartel. These people hate Chief Executive CY Leung’s administration, especially after his recently announced increase in welfare for other people. By publicly espousing a policy designed to further enrich them by pretty much literally crushing the life out of the other 99.9% of us, CY perhaps hopes tycoons will stop whining about him to Beijing.

Another possibility is that officials are genuinely favouring the tycoons and using one of their stalest tactics: exaggerating the bad news so we’ll all leap with joy when the truth turns out to be only two-thirds dreadful (ie, just shy of the lynchings-level). A third explanation is that the bureaucrats and the vested interests ultimately controlled by the aforementioned tycoons are trying to justify yet more bloated white-elephant infrastructure projects, or at least a third airport runway. Or a combination of the above.

But there is another possibility, tangled up in all the pro-tycoon official priorities and lame spin-trickery. Even for the bloodsucking tourism industry, there is only limited commercial logic to cramming yet more shoppers into Hong Kong: not only will the city become unlivable for residents, it will be so unpleasant that visitors will go elsewhere. Indeed, vacancies in prime Causeway Bay retail areas suggest we are getting to the limits. The industry itself will choke if it tries to accommodate an additional flood of humanity just to get a few years’ more ultra-high rents for a handful of landlords. Perhaps the tycoons know something we don’t (say, plans by Beijing to cut taxes on luxury goods in the Mainland in 2017); or perhaps their crazed lust for short-term returns forces them into self-destructiveness (in which case, let the 100 million in now and get it over with).  But there can only be one other reason for our officials to be so blinkered, so blind to other ways of doing things, and so incapable of seeing an industry that has become unsustainably ravenous and obese: and that is, they’re insane. 

The Lowu-to-Sheung Shui MTR yesterday.

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20 Responses to Tourism madness

  1. Joe Blow says:

    We are already beyond saturation, and well on our way to ‘lynch time’: this morning I was in a very large supermarket in Causeway Bay and there were so many locusts standing around annoyingly in the aisles, all pushing the largest trolleys they could find, loaded sky high with those vomit-inducing Ferrero chocolates and 3-year old boxes of Kjeldsen’s cookies, effectively creating a major traffic jam in the store that made me, sunny and laid-back as I usually am, mumble obscenities under my breath at these people, wishing they would all choke to death on Quality Street toffees, right there and then.

  2. Probably says:

    How many of that 100 million are actually tourists and how many are smugglers running milk powder between Sheung Shui & Lowu all day long?

  3. Since a fair proportion of the waste clogging up our landfills must be generated by the tourism industry (discarded wrappings of purchases, uneaten hotel buffet leftovers, etc.), we should make each visitor carry a full bag of rubbish back over the border with them. This would at least relieve our rubbish disposal problem, even if all the other problems remained.

    Refusi8ng to build more hotels might also help keep the numbers down; the problem is that this would affect legitimate business visitors, harming our real economy.

  4. Gumshoe says:

    One of my favorite Saturday breakfast joints in Yuen Long has closed down this past week, unannounced, to house a new jewelry shop. I’m ready to go skitz.

  5. pat says:

    Beautifully observed Hemmers. I wonder if any of these gov. minister wankers have actually tried taking the Mtr for a week at peak hour…

  6. maugrim says:

    I was thinking similar yesterday walking through CWB and Wanchai. Just who is benefitting/making all the cash from the millions of locusts who infest us? Certainly not the average young person who cannot dream of even being able to afford a spuriously advertised box in the middle of nowhere. What our politicians miss is the bleeding obvious, that is, the sense of dislocation HK’ers have with their own home, caused mainly by the fact that it is used as a litter tray by countless Mainlanders. This effects everything from the kinds of shops residents can use, to congestion at ALL levels of civic infrastructure and services. Our politicians can bleat all they like about occupy Central, steam be building in other areas, that when it blows, is going to be quite something.

  7. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Good stuff today Hemmers, and written with the vitriol we all are feeling , whether ex-pats or gweilos (or just forget race – just say those with sanity)

    The idea of HK hosting 100 million tourists per year (of which 90% are from China) is just bloody, fucking, insane madness , and well worth going to jail for lynching the idiots in govt who thought up and promote this imbecility

    But there is light at the end of the tunnel… ( and I am being serious, as well as practical):

    a)Fact is : the locusts do conveniently congregate in a few places and leave the rest of HK untouched e.g our public gardens, the country parks, and the sort of places normal people go ( normal people don’t go to Causeway Bay or Disneyland any longer) . Thus HK Park is delightfully serene and peaceful even at weekends , but DON’T attempt the Peak Tram or Peak Tower

    b) The answer is maybe the golden word “factory outlet stores”.
    There’s a European company that has cottoned on to this ( Foxtown or a such-like name ) They build huge malls in out-of- the way places somewhat close to main tourist towns (e.g. there’s one in Banbury about 20 miles north of Oxford, and another one north of Milan near the Swiss border) . It’s shopping heaven for the locusts – even the shop assistants are Chinese-speaking , and the locusts gladly pass by the dreaming but cold and windy spires of Oxford or the ruins of Rome in exchange for a day – yes a whole day – in glorious Foxtown , with air-con, restaurants and free parking.

    So let’s take a leaf out of Tom Holland’s column today about thinking out of the box. Ask not what is the solution, but make the solution the question.

    So the bridge from HK to no-where (the cost of which alone would look after our old people for 20 years ! ) , could be regarded as the bridge to HK’s own Foxtown.

    All we need is the biggest frigging factory outlet mall in the whole world at our duty-free end of the bridge, with parking only for coaches, and a short cut to Disneyland. And Bingo ! We process our 100 million locusts on the outskirts of HK just as Deng Xiaoping put his export-processing SEZs on the coast.

    China has SEZs : we have TPZs ( Tourist Processing Zones)

    Then we change the law in HK to impose a 25% duty on luxury watches , handbags, cosmetics etc in the whole of HK except in our TPZs , so all the HK tai tais also have to wing it out to Foxtown in their tycoon-mobiles, thus leaving Central peacefully free of traffic.
    Kills two birds with one stone.

    (A dutiful HK tai-tai would still rather troll out to Foxtown to save the tax-duty even if she is married to LKS )

    Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
    Appeared a mighty throng
    Of locusts who all joined to sing
    This glorious tax-free song

    “All glory be to Great Foxtown
    We sing with all our breath
    We praise the wondrous TPZ
    And shop ourselves to death”

  8. mumphLT says:

    Its very simple – Hong Kong is quickly becoming an irritating, dirty phuq hole. Most of the visitors are not tourists at all but they are causing real tourists and business visitors to stay away. When China changes its tax system or some other control on travel – then HK will be left with a bunch of closed down dried sea food and tat shops. Many areas now are indistinguishable as all the shops are selling the same crap.

  9. The Regulator says:

    It is Govt policy that Tung Chung’s Citygate and Tuen Mun’s V-City cater to and are designed for, mainland shoppers

  10. PropertyDeveloper says:

    I’m afraid I’m going to relativise and contextualise the prevailing wisdom, as so elegantly expressed by Hetzel and co.

    I personally find mainlanders more polite (in terms of glaring, blocking, shouting, shoving, cosmopolitanism, greed, electoral practice, dishonesty, corruption) than HK’s very own “indigenous” (foreign absentee) villagers.

    It’s easy to avoid the hordes by judicious use of time-sharing, local wet markets and/or choice of traditional areas of towns — or if necessary with a big dog and car.

    Is it really 100 m visitors or 100 m visits? In any case, if many are only for an hour or two, then at any one time, there should be on average less than n odd million or two.

    I’m not trying to be provocative, but… The obvious reason for government ministers’ mistakes is their lack of intelligence, emotional intelligence, literacy and numeracy (not in the literal sense, just in all practical terms). They come from 9,000 years of the most highly developed civilisation in the galaxy, but one which frowns on independent thinking, one where the educational system is largely rote learning, where power and, increasingly, foreigner-hating grow out of the barrel of a gun, where blind obedience and total secrecy prevail, where straight-line extrapolation is the very acme of creative brilliance. Hence the 100 million follows on “scientifically” and “objectively”.

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Cursed dictation software and spellchecker: for Hetzel read Hemlock!

  12. maugrim says:

    I was thinking of the same thing as ETP with regards to a solution. PD, I have to respectfully disagree in that people’s lives are touched in so many (less than good) ways, for example, being shoved in the back by an impatient Mainlander when getting on public transport. The fact we now have to avoid certain areas is a small example.

  13. Scoff Law says:

    Yes the government should think laterally.

    Why not invest some of those reserves in a Fake Hong Kong (FHK) just up the coast a bit.

    GPS 22.677065,114.83523 looks like a good spot.

    FHK will be just like Real Hong Kong – a showcase of shoddy construction, poor design, disconnected thinking and frayed edges.

    FHK will be a haven for desirable fake brands like Vulgari, Ferrari Roaches and Lousy Vuitton. Our mainland friends will love it coz they can pimp out and pig out at bargain prices.

    FHK will be run by our fake politicians and fake public servants who can continue to ignore public interests and collude with monopolists and other sharks to their heart’s content.

    We can ship all the polluting vehicles to FHK and fit out RHK with expensive inspired infrastructure based on autonomous electric vehicles, electric bicycles and moving walkways or something equally cool and people-friendly.

    Constructing FHK will get the tycoon, construction and other leech lobbies off our backs for a bit.

    Everyone wins!

    Until they build a bridge.

  14. Dr Doo-me-a-little says:

    Greg So may be right in saying that HK is an open port and we cannot stop people from visiting, but if there are already 50 million coming every year, wouldn’t that be a golden opportunity for John Tsang to figure out a way to squeeze some tax out of each and every one of them (thus repleting our ‘in 20 year they will be gone’-reserves ?

    Of course, John Tsang has no imagination of his own, but maybe someone else can come up with some ways: f.e. arrival tax, increased hotel tax, 20% tax on all luxury goods costing more than, let’s say, HK$ 10,000- (and that includes cars, of which there are too many), departure tax, tax on non-HK people having babies in our hospitals etc.

    It would be quite a earner.

  15. AndAnotherThing says:

    Waited for seven trains to pass before being able to board at Admiralty last Friday evening at 6.15. It’s been a while since I travelled on the MTR at peak hours but I don’t recall it being that bad.

    Transport Department really needs to get a grip on the problem of coping with huge numbers of pedestrians. Large-scale weekend pedestrianisation schemes are needed in most of Causeway Bay and pedestrian crossing lights need to be re-timed to allow for more people crossing major roads. The damn barriers that have appeared everywhere are just making matters worse.

    A trend that seems to be slipping under the radar is the conversion of formerly tenanted apartments to short-stay tourist places. This has happened in my Wanchai building where I would guess 4-5 out of the 70 or so units have already been converted over the past year. This is pushing out normal tenants but also provides additional tourist accommodation though not exclusively for Mainlanders as I’ve observed.

    I thought my relatively quiet end of Lockhart Road close to Canal Road was great when I moved here four years ago but boy has the neighbourhood gone down the tubes. Tonight I was hemmed in by a convoy of trolley-case wielding Mainlanders stretching 25 metres along the pavement. As for weekends, it’s horrific – you have to queue up just to be able to cross Percival Street! The problem is of course that our senior policy makers rarely, if ever, experience this kind of crap.

  16. Ex Tax Payer says:

    Hot off the press (SCMP early Tuesday morning):

    _________________________

    More shopping centres are needed near the border and along railway lines to cope with an additional tens of millions of tourists expected in the coming years, an industry leader says.

    Official estimates show the city may receive 70 million visitors annually in the next three years and 100 million within a decade, mostly from the mainland.

    To cope with the influx, the government is working on an automated traveller clearance system …

    …In the meantime, the city could set up retail facilities in the proposed locations to divert tourists from major shopping districts, Travel Industry Council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng suggested on Monday.

    “Based on what these tourists like, more retail spots can be sent up along railway lines or near the border to achieve divergence,” Wu said on RTHK.

    “When you have other available retail spots for them, they would not flood places such as Mong Kok or Causeway Bay at the same time.”

    Lantau Island could host some of the facilities, he said.

    ______________________

    Seems others have had the same idea and that it might become reality !

    If so, welcome Foxtwon to come to HK ( but NIMBY, please )

    PS: @ AndAnotherThing – I know exactly how you feel. I live close by.

    PPS: @ PD – I have nothing personal against Mainlanders, and indeed they are lovely people, and I spend a lot of time in the Mainland among them. Just that there’s a limit as to how many of them, all pulling trolley suitcases, can be accommodated at one time in one place

  17. spud says:

    To ETP:

    Sadly it is not true that the locusts only visit the shopping districts. I’ve witnessed with my own eyes at least a dozen tour buses offloading them at a country park. To say it ruined our family morning out is an understatement, NOWHERE is safe anymore!

  18. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Agreed that the tourists are ruining significant sections of the territory. (A common theme is the weekends, when normal life grinds to a halt in certain areas.)

    But (a) it’s pretty much inevitable (b) it’s only the most visible sign of our suffocation of Hong Kong, which has much deeper roots and (c) I get the impression that rural NT has always been rather like that, with Kowloon and New Kowloon in an intermediate category, and the current, very real, problems finally reaching the richest and/or most civilised areas of HKI.

  19. Henry says:

    Have you tried walking the Dragons Back these days? Makes getting on a train at Admiralty look like a picnic. The tourists are getting everywhere. There are even a few at Cyberport (

  20. PHT says:

    AAT – If you are going TST bound from Admiralty, go to the front of the train. I have never had to wait for more than 1 or 2 trains even at 6:30 pm.

    Everyone should remember that freedom to move around in your own country is a basic human right.

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