Statu­tory watch­dog with mus­cles wel­comed

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The SAR gov­ern­ment on Wed­nes­day sub­mit­ted the draft travel in­dus­try bill to the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil for its Panel on Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment to de­lib­er­ate over in its next meet­ing on Tues­day. The in­dus­try-spe­cific leg­is­la­tion is a nec­es­sary in­stru­ment for the estab­lish­ment of the Travel In­dus­try Author­ity as well as for en­sur­ing the healthy devel­op­ment of tourism-re­lated busi­nesses in Hong Kong. We are a so­ci­ety liv­ing un­der the rule of law and it is only nat­u­ral for the city to have a prop­erly reg­u­lated travel in­dus­try that of­fers vis­i­tors a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery time they are in Hong Kong.

Tourism has long been a ma­jor eco­nomic growth en­gine for Hong Kong and ex­panded sig­nif­i­cantly since the in­tro­duc­tion of the In­di­vid­ual Visit Scheme for main­land res­i­dents in 2003. Mil­lions of vis­i­tors from the main­land have been spend­ing so much money an­nu­ally here in Hong Kong in re­cent years that lo­cal con­sumer ser­vices are now more re­liant on main­land cus­tomers than ever. How­ever, tourist ar­rivals from across the north­ern boundary with Guang­dong have de­creased markedly this year due to a num­ber of rea­sons, not least spo­radic ha­rass­ment by a few “lo­cal­ist” groups.

Mal­prac­tices tar­get­ing main­land tour groups are also hurt­ing busi­ness in the tourism sec­tor. On Wed­nes­day yet an­other alarm sounded as dis­ap­point­ing busi­ness re­sults were re­ported by Ocean Park, which is now in the red for the first time in more than a decade. An­other main tourist at­trac­tion — the Hong Kong Dis­ney­land Re­sort — also re­ported an op­er­at­ing loss last year.

Need­less to say Hong Kong is not the most im­por­tant des­ti­na­tion for many main­land tourists any more, as more and more over­seas mar­kets have opened their arms to main­lan­ders. This means Hong Kong needs to come up with new at­trac­tions and af­ford a bet­ter re­cep­tion to ap­peal to its north­ern neigh­bors. To do so will in­evitably re­quire ad­e­quate reg­u­la­tions. This is in or­der to pre­vent il­le­gal prac­tices from harm­ing Hong Kong’s rep­u­ta­tion and devel­op­ment as well as vis­i­tors’ per­sonal well-be­ing. It’s time to give the travel in­dus­try a reg­u­la­tory body with real mus­cles.

Some play­ers in the sec­tor have pre­vi­ously ex­pressed wor­ries that the pro­posed Travel In­dus­try Author­ity may turn out to be a “tooth­less tiger”. Now the con­cern seems to be about dis­ci­plinary overkill, es­pe­cially the ques­tion of where to draw the line be­tween civil and crim­i­nal li­a­bil­i­ties. Such is­sues de­serve ex­tra care­ful han­dling by leg­is­la­tors to en­sure the end re­sult will be an ef­fec­tive guar­an­tee for the healthy and or­derly devel­op­ment of the travel in­dus­try in­stead of it be­ing a “scare­crow” or “con­trol freak”.

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