Hong Kong’s officials forecast tourist numbers will rise to over 60 million this year. Yet they whine that visitors are staying for ever-shorter periods. And publicly-subsidized Disneyland makes a loss yet again (HK$345 million – peanuts compared with the billions in land value and opportunity costs the white-elephant Mouse has swallowed).
It seems the more tourists we cram into Hong Kong, the more trouble the industry is in. And that makes perfect sense: tourism is undermining itself.
The obsession with tourist numbers arose from an obsession with Mainlanders-as-buyers-of-luxury-crap hoovering up Euro-trash brands and enriching the city’s landlords. As Mainlanders move on to more sophisticated vacationing, visitors are on average staying for less time and spending less – but all the tourism sector can think up is increasing throughput or adding increasingly desperate ‘attractions’.
Meanwhile, Hongkongers with sense, taste and a few days to spare head off to Taiwan or Japan. They are mostly not going for phony, culturally alien theme parks or tourist magnets (though some exist). They are not going to buy overpriced junk. Many are not even drawn specifically by scenic countryside or historic sites (though both countries have them). They go because they are nice places.
The transport is great. The food is great. The environment is clean, quiet, safe and pleasant – genuine communities with relaxed people enjoying a high quality of life in accordance with their own standards and customs. They are nice to live in, and as a result they are nice to visit.
All Hong Kong’s greedy, parasitical tourism industry and frenzied bureaucrats know is pushing up landlords’ rents and developers’ profits. And that means eradicating street markets and street food, and local stores, and replacing them with malls, malls and more sterile malls.
Having swamped Central and Sheung Wan with Koreans promised a fake ‘Old Town’ experience, officials are now set on wrecking poor Shamshuipo. After replacing the old hardware stores and groceries with international ice-cream, cake, perfumed-candle and other chains, the slash-and-burn tourism industry will move on to pulverize and ethnically cleanse another neighbourhood into a concept-theme-zone-hub.
Obviously, the ‘tourism’ lobby couldn’t care less that they are wrecking Hong Kong as a place for the city’s own (irrelevant) people to live in. But they’re so dumb, they’re wrecking it as a place worth visiting, and ultimately being a landlord in. The only silver lining: the selfie-snapping guidebook-obeying North Asian zombies will probably finally go away.