Time for Hong Kong’s tourism in­dus­try to face the sad truth

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Peo­ple barely hear good news from Hong Kong’s two ma­jor theme parks in re­cent times.

Ear­lier this month, Ocean Park Hong Kong an­nounced its first deficit since 2003, when SARS (se­vere acute res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome) hit the city. The park, re­port­ing a 17.8-per­cent slump in rev­enue and a HK$241.1-mil­lion deficit dur­ing the fis­cal year through June 30, blamed its loss on a sharp de­cline in main­land trav­el­ers as vis­i­tor num­bers to the park were down 18.8 per­cent dur­ing the pe­riod.

It sub­se­quently an­nounced it will raise the ad­mis­sion fee by 13.8 per­cent from Jan 1, 2017 to shore up rev­enues, though Hong Kong res­i­dents will be charged the new rates only from March as a con­ces­sion to lo­cals.

Ho n g Ko n g D i s n e y l a n d Re­sort, on the other hand, is rolling up its sleeves to up­grade its fea­tures and attractions in a six-year blueprint sup­ported by HK$5.8 bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money. Last year, the then sole Dis­ney theme park in China reg­is­tered a loss of HK$148 mil­lion, which was also at­trib­uted to de­clin­ing pop­u­lar­ity caused by fewer main­land vis­i­tors.

Both parks may have solid grounds to por­tray them­selves as vic­tims of a busi­ness sec­tor af­fected by ten­sion in the city which has stymied the in­flux of main­land vis­i­tors, even if they don’t com­plain loudly about it. Peo­ple are un­likely to find other places in Hong Kong — even the coun­ters of lux­ury brand bou­tiques — where staff pro­vide as wel­com­ing and friendly ser­vice as Ocean Park and Dis­ney­land do to their cus­tomers.

But the two parks would be miss­ing the point if they be­lieved main­land trav­el­ers showed less de­sire to visit Hong Kong be­cause the ser­vice here in the city was lousy and peo­ple were un­friendly to main­land trav­el­ers. In fact, main­land tourists are quite ac­cus­tomed to un­pleas­ant ser­vice, and they don’t mind as long as the des­ti­na­tion is new to them or pro­vides their pre­ferred prod­ucts but at much big­ger dis­counts.

That’s why we see main­land peo­ple fill the Great Wall in Bei­jing and the City God Tem­ple of Shang­hai dur­ing ev­ery long hol­i­day. If some­one thought the ser­vice qual­ity in Bei­jing was bet­ter than Hong Kong or the Shang­hai peo­ple were friend­lier to out­siders com­pared with Hong Kong peo­ple, I would not be able to keep a straight face!

We read lots of news about how trav­el­ers to Yun­nan prov­ince have been mis­treated or forced to shop by tour guides, or those to Sanya in Hainan prov­ince have been ex­torted through ex­ces­sively high prices for nor­mal ser­vices, such as in restau­rants or tak­ing a taxi. More­over, if you don’t move fast to book ho­tels for peak sea- son, you may find your­self broke be­fore you get there.

We also have main­land tourists swarm­ing into for­eign coun­tries, who do not even know a word of the lo­cal lan­guage but are able to have great fun only shop­ping in the malls, armed with cal­cu­la­tors or just point­ing fin­gers. I am not sure if a tourist could en­joy the travel ex­pe­ri­ence in a city where he is not even able to talk to a lo­cal res­i­dent, but the price tags are “cheer­ful” as they are al­ways a lot cheaper than those back home.

It is true Hong Kong’s two theme parks re­ceive fewer main­land tourists as main­land peo­ple are trav­el­ing less to the city. But it’s not the full story that main- land peo­ple have be­come less fa­vor­able to­ward Hong Kong due to cross-bound­ary ten­sion; many main­land trav­el­ers who could af­ford to visit Hong Kong have al­ready been to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is no longer a shop­ping par­adise due to the ap­pre­ci­at­ing lo­cal cur­rency.

It may be the sad truth that the best times for Hong Kong’s tourism in­dus­try are gone — and are not likely to come back in com­ing years when the Hong Kong dol­lar is likely to re­main on an up­ward trend. In­stead of an­tic­i­pat­ing a re­bound of main­land tourists for no good rea­son, the lo­cal parks had bet­ter con­sider do­ing bet­ter bud­get man­age­ment and eye­ing more lo­cal peo­ple.

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