Biting The Hand That Feeds

02 Apr 2012|Added Value

If a country, territory, or destination is a brand, then its residents are its ambassadors and its visitors are its consumers. The destination’s “brand value” (visitors’ perception of it) can either be augmented or eroded by events, or by the actions of just a handful of its residents. As any brand trustee would tell you, just one “rogue” in the organisation can cause a remarkable fall from grace – that can take months and sometimes years to repair, if it can be repaired at all.

Countless millions of people believe, quite rightly, that Hong Kong is a fabulous place to visit. In fact, I believe it is one of the most spectacular cities on the planet. I first visited here a quarter of a century ago, and have been filling up passports with Hong Kong visitor stamps ever since.

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A spectacularly-increasing number of Mainland Chinese tourists have also been won over by the delights of Hong Kong: In 2003, there were 9.8 million visits made; that figure rose to just shy of 18 million in 2009; and topped 28 million in 2011 (about 24 percent up on 2010’s total, which was 26 percent more than 2009’s)1 .

In 2011, 67 percent of all arrivals into Hong Kong embarked from Mainland China.

The demographic of Mainland visitors provides a clue to their motivation for making the trip2 : 56.8 percent of visits were made by women, and 56.5 percent of all visits were made by 26 to 45 year-olds. Whereas, for instance, women visitors accounted for 35.7 percent of visits that embarked from the US, and only 36.9 percent of visits were made by 26 to 45 year-olds.

In other words, a Mainlander visiting Hong Kong is typically 35 year old and female. What’s more, she is here on a mission. She is here to shop. Mainlanders (mostly women) don’t just spend more money here than anyone else; they spend a much higher-proportion of their money on shopping.

The figures are simply staggering3 : In the first half of 2011, overnight visitors from Mainland China spent HK$48.3 billion (65.4% of all overnighters’ expenditure); while day-trippers spent a total of HK$16.1 billion (89.4 percent of all money spent by this type of visitor). This represents a 19.2 percent and 31.1 percent increase respectively, compared with the same period a year earlier.

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Day-trippers from Mainland China spent a whacking HK$2,456 per day-trip4 (the vast proportion of which was spent on shopping)

“Overnighters” from the Mainland spent 70.1 per-cent of their entire expenditure in HK on shopping (Just 13 percent was spent on hotel rooms). In fact, 78 percent of all money spent on shopping by visitors in this group, was spent by those coming from Mainland China – a whopping HK$33.8 billion of the total first-half 2011 expenditure of about HK$43 billion.

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But how important is this expenditure to Hong Kong’s economy, not to mention to the thousands of shops that are the recipients of the Mainlanders’ cash? In a word, it’s significant.

According to data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics department (HKCSD), the contribution that expenditure on inbound tourism makes to local GDP has been rising steadily – from 2.5 percent contribution in 2006 to 3.5 percent in 20105 . The HKCSD also calculates that, in 2010, 190,500 jobs relied on inbound tourism (that’s 45,600 more than in 2006), including 90,500 jobs in the retail sector (28,200 more than in 2006).

So, if the trend-lines continue into 2012, Mainland Chinese visitors would be set to contribute around 3 percent to Hong Kong’s GDP; as well as being responsible for the creation and preservation of many thousands of local jobs.

With this in mind, one would think that “Brand Hong Kong” would be welcoming Mainland visitors with open arms. Worryingly, though, many Mainlanders are not feeling the love.

That’s in no small part due to a full-page advertisement, paid for by 800 unnamed contributors, which ran in Apple Daily, a popular Hong Kong newspaper, on 1st February this year. Under the headline, “Hong Kong people, we’ve had enough!” – the advertisement dramatises what the authors perceive to be the threat to Hong Kong posed by what they describe as “locusts” (Mainland mothers who give birth to their children in Hong Kong hospitals – thus securing various social benefits in Hong Kong for the child).

Sadly, the “locusts” symbolism inspired a few people to extend the insult to the general population of Mainland Chinese tourists in Hong Kong.

A five minute video, “Locusts’ World” – that is a parody of a famous Hong Kong pop hit – castigates Mainlanders for, among other things, various “transgressions” of the Hong Kong social code. The language and images it uses are insulting to the point of being abusive; and are clearly intended to ridicule and to incite loathing. The line, “Inch by inch, Hong Kong is being taken over by these pests,” provides a flavour of the senseless vitriol that oozes from the lyrics.

As well as various versions of “Locusts’ World” videos that are circulating on the Web, there is also a particularly sickening image of some thugs singing the “Locusts’ World” song to Mainland Chinese tourists on a high street in central Hong Kong (an image that was first published in the Apple Daily).

Interestingly, none of the videos appear on the popular Chinese video-sharing websites Youku and Tudou (presumably they was deemed inflammatory, and removed); but versions of it continues to be available on various less-well-watched Mainland China sites, including, where the video has been viewed by close to half a million people.

Forums and weibos (Chinese Twitter-like sites) across Mainland China have been awash with indignation. Mr Xie, from Guangzhou – who has almost 40 thousand followers of his Sina weibo – sums up his feelings:

“…[formerly] the Hong Kong government would put the focus on promoting Hong Kong Tourism. [Without which]… the economy of Hong Kong will never flourish. Shame on this action (singing the “locusts” song)! Go and sing it in Tiananmen Square if you have the balls to do it!”

For the sake of “Brand Hong Kong” – and for everyone who genuinely cares about this wonderful place – there needs to be a strenuous effort made by all concerned to convince would-be tourists from the Mainland (including Mr Xie and his band of almost 40,000 followers) that they can indeed be sure of the warmest of welcomes.

Written by Steve Bale, Non Executive Chairman, Oracle Added Value, China 



1 Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) reports, including “Visitor Arrival Statistics” December 2011 (published in January 2012), section 4, PDF p5

2 Ibid, section 15, PDF p19

3 Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) “Tourism Expenditure Associated to [sic] Inbound Tourism, Jan – June 2011” (published in October 2012), section 2, p1 and section 6, p4

4 Ibid, section 7, p4

5 Hong Kong Census and Statistics department, table 189 and 190;

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