Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

HK anti-tourist protest good for no one

By William Daniel Garst (China Daily) Updated: 2014-02-25 08:16

Chinese mainland tourists are in the news again. But unlike the past when web postings went viral about their uncivil behaviors in France and Egypt, the latest headlines revolve around Hong Kong residents' protest against visitors from the mainland.

On Feb 16, about 100 Hong Kong residents marched from the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier to Canton Road, a shopping street heavily frequented by tourists, including those from the mainland. The protesters referred to the tourists as "locusts" devouring Hong Kong's resources, calling the mainland visitors "shina", a derogatory term used by the Japanese to describe Chinese people after the 1895 Sino-Japanese War.

Several Hong Kong officials have condemned the protest against mainland tourists. On Feb 20, Equal Opportunities Commission Chairman York Chow Yat-ngok said it was possible to amend Hong Kong's race hate laws to cover discrimination against members of the same ethnic group. And Hong Kong's Security Secretary Lai Tun-Kwok said: "Tourists were not only disturbed and frightened, they also felt insulted."

Referring to mainland tourists as shina was especially insensitive of the protesters. But my first reaction to it was to "get a grip". Locals across the world love to hate tourists and devise pejorative terms for them.

Although traveling is a wonderful and mind-broadening experience, it often requires one to have a thick skin. And as the recent upsurge of xenophobia in even former bastions of European tolerance like the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries indicate, the rising cross-national interaction associated with globalization has not made for greater understanding among people. In this instance, the old adage, familiarity breeds contempt, rings true.

This is not the first time Hong Kong residents have expressed anger over mainland tourists. In 2012, a group of Hong Kong residents issued a full-page advertisement in a newspaper which depicted mainland tourists as a giant locust over the city's skyline, while a video of a shouting match between mainland visitors and locals on a train went viral.

Hong Kong residents can be excused for resenting the earlier mass buying of infant formula by mainland tourists, which depleted supplies in local stores, although Hong Kong authorities have now taken steps to limit such purchase by non-residents.

More mystifying is why the latest protest targeted tourists shopping at Canton Road. This street is lined with luxury stores, and it is hard to imagine that by patronizing such establishments, foreign shoppers are depriving Hong Kong residents of essential goods. The money foreign tourists spend is vital for the well-being of these businesses, and the same can be said about the economy of Hong Kong in general. Tourism accounts for 4.5 percent of Hong Kong's GDP and provides jobs to about 600,000 people. It is now regarded as one of the four "pillar" industries of the metropolis, alongside logistics and transportation, finance, and professional services.

Tourists from the mainland play a key role in supporting Hong Kong's tourism sector; they are expected to comprise 75 percent of the 59 million people likely to visit the city this year. This overall number of tourists represents a double-digit increase over the previous year's figure. And by 2030 the annual number of tourists to Hong Kong is expected to touch 100 million, the majority of whom will be mainland residents.

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