It’s the sort of publicity any city could best do well without. While Hong Kong’s tourism chiefs have been working overtime to attract tourists from mainland China — traditionally the city’s main source of visitors — on the street level, tourism operators seem hell-bent on turning them off ever coming to town.
Mainland China’s official tourism body this week issued a warning to travellers planning a trip to Hong Kong after a video surfaced of a Hong Kong tour guide screaming at a group of Chinese tourists and demanding that they spend more money .
At one stage the tour guide reminds the tourists that she has arranged everything for the trip and “If you don’t pay me back in this life, you’ll still have to pay me back in your next life.”
She also says: “Spend more, you’ll be happier… don’t tell me you don’t need [to buy more], next you’ll be telling me you don’t need to eat at meal time. I will lock you out of your hotel rooms because you don’t need them [either].”
Such operators — who attach themselves to Chinese tour groups — are notorious for doing deals with certain shops and for being paid according to how many tourists they bring through the doors and according to how much money the tourists spend.
Tour operators in Shanghai have apparently claimed tours to Hong Kong are down 30 per cent this year due to a spate of similar controversies — pretty scary for the city when you consider 18 million Chinese tourists came to Hong Kong in 2009.
The news could not come at a worse time for Hong Kong as destinations such as Taiwan and Macao continue to draw more and more Chinese tourists.
Taiwan in particular has been making much of the fact that since a July 2008 agreement to let mainland tourists travel direct to the island — instead of via a third country — 13.3 million people have made the trip, and they have injected $US3.45 million ($A3.93 million) into the local economy once they have touched down.
And while Taiwan seems to be doing everything right, Hong Kong blunders from embarrassment to embarrassment.
Making matters even worse were Wednesday’s news media reports that Hong Kong’s tourism head, James Tien, seemed to put the blame not on dodgy tour guides but on the fact that mainland Chinese tourists were not prepared to spend more money on tours. The 2,000 yuan ($A336) paid by the tourists in the notorious video was “far from enough,” he said.
You are left with the feeling that over in Taiwan, the developments have left a lot of people smiling.