Hong Kong Many-Splendoured but Bureaucrats Indifferent

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    Yesterday, the S China Morning Post Talkback asked for views on ways to improve local tourism. I sent this letter, which appeared today:

    Dear Sir:

    I have long believed Hong Kong’s tourism industry would benefit through promoting Hong Kong’s astonishing diversity. We don’t need to spend millions of dollars on dodgy concrete “attractions” like the ersatz village-thing at Ngong Ping or the Wetland Park. Instead, Hong Kong has potential tourism destinations ranging from small but fascinating islands, through traditional South China villages and country parks with hills, forests and waterfalls, to densely packed city streets, soaring skyscrapers and a multitude of bars and restaurants.

    True, the Hong Kong Tourism Board does a little promotion of this variety – including through a booklet I helped write and photograph: Discover Hong Kong Nature. But in addition to promotions, we also need an environment in which tourism showcasing Hong Kong’s variety has chance to flourish. Currently, this is sadly lacking.

    Anyone wanting to run small-scale tours in Hong Kong encounters regulations that were geared towards eliminating issues with full-blown travel agents – yet which have failed to solve problems such as tours centered on garnering commission from restaurants, stores and factory outlets that hapless visitors are herded round. Surely it would be possible to allow people to operate as Specialised Tour Guides, rather as in Singapore, so they too can be promoted, and can share their expertise and enthusiasm with visitors whose interests range wider than the Peak and Causeway Bay.

    Then, there are several small rural hostels offering accommodation in magnificent areas, yet as I understand it they are hampered from being promoted to tourists because of licensing regulations that primarily focus on city hotels and hostels. Here, too, there would seem to be scope for flexibility: fire safety standards surely don’t have to be as stringent for a two-storey village house as for a high-rise hotel.

    Such issues are known to our tourism industry’s powers-that-be, and I find it hard to fathom why they have not been fixed: I can only guess the reasons are bureaucratic indifference and indolence. Yet I retain a perhaps foolishly optimistic hope that, someday, Hong Kong will be promoted not as merely a city of some sort, but as (for instance) Hong Kong: a Many-Splendoured Place.

    Yours faithfully,

    Dr Martin Williams

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