24th May 2024 – (Hong Kong) In the aftermath of the pandemic, the Hong Kong government has been making strenuous efforts to reinvigorate its once-thriving tourism industry. Regrettably, these endeavours have yet to bear fruit. A glaring indication of this shortcoming was evident during the recent Labour Day holiday, where the number of mainland Chinese tourists entering Hong Kong paled in comparison to the number of Hongkongers leaving the city for holiday destinations.

Despite the earnest admonitions from Beijing officials who ventured south to offer guidance on revitalising the tourism sector, emphasising the mantra of “tourism everywhere”, and the central government’s magnanimous gesture of extending the “individual visit scheme” to eight more mainland cities, the results have been lacklustre at best. It appears that all the painstaking efforts and meticulous planning have been for naught.

In reality, the most compelling ambassadors for showcasing Hong Kong’s allure to the world are none other than the throngs of bogus refugees who continue to flock to the city in search of easy pickings. Rather than burdening the “powers that be” in Beijing with the task of devising strategies, the Hong Kong government would be better served by biting the bullet and further loosening restrictions on the intake of these fake asylum seekers. By implementing a free-roaming policy for these individuals, even if financial gains are not immediately forthcoming, at the very least, the city’s population will receive a much-needed boost.

Such a move would not only demonstrate to the international community that Hong Kong is a destination where tourism knows no bounds but also showcase the city as a place of endless vibrancy – a veritable paradise where one would wish to reside for a lifetime!

During this year’s Labour Day holiday, mainland Chinese tourists spent a staggering total of 166.89 billion yuan, representing a year-on-year increase of 12.7% and a 13.5% growth compared to the pre-pandemic figures of 2019. This resurgence in domestic tourism has been witnessed across numerous popular attractions throughout the country, with scenes of bustling crowds becoming commonplace once again.

Hong Kong, however, has been left to lament its solitary decline. Once a top destination for mainland tourists, the city has failed to capitalise on the rebound significantly. During the Labour Day break, the number of mainland visitors entering Hong Kong fell short of even the modest projection of 800,000, with only around 760,000 arrivals recorded. As mainland tourists increasingly opt for short-haul independent travel, not only has the number of tour group participants dwindled, but their overall spending has also decreased. The days of “shopping sprees” are becoming a distant memory, with many visitors now choosing to spend their nights in Shenzhen, further reducing their expenditure in Hong Kong.

Even when Beijing officials met with the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism and proposed that Hong Kong’s tourism industry must “recognise change, adapt to change, and seek change” by employing new ideas and methods to tackle the challenges at hand, their words seemed to fall on deaf ears, proving ineffectual in the grand scheme of things.

The Hong Kong government and the industry have been pinning their hopes on the “powers that be” in Beijing to throw them a lifeline by opening up more cities for individual visits. However, with even remote provinces such as Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang now permitting individual travel to Hong Kong, it not only underscores the central government’s unwavering support but also exposes Hong Kong’s desperate lack of alternatives.

Whether the “incompetent one” can ultimately be propped up remains a dubious prospect. The reality is that the tourism landscape has evolved, and while the mainland continues to make strides forward, destinations worldwide are also vying for visitors. Hong Kong’s insistence on clinging to outdated methods and mindsets will inevitably hinder any prospects of a breakthrough.

Witness the recent initiatives to promote mega events, launch monthly fireworks displays, and even distribute cash vouchers to tourists – all of which have failed to capture the hearts of potential visitors. Some have derided the events as lacking in grandeur, while others have complained that the fireworks pale in comparison to the splendour of traditional firecrackers. Moreover, Hong Kong’s electronic payment systems have been criticised by some tourists as lagging behind the convenience offered by their mainland counterparts.

Faced with this disheartening scenario, there is no need to sink into despair. In the spirit of “recognising change and seeking change,” this publication takes the liberty of offering a constructive suggestion to the Hong Kong government for promoting the city.

It is widely known that regardless of Hong Kong’s economic well-being, the South Asian bogus refugees remain steadfastly loyal to the city, refusing to leave and clinging on for dear life. Every month, there are reports of these individuals attempting to enter Hong Kong illegally, with the current number of bogus refugees stranded in the city exceeding 10,000. The Hong Kong government’s annual expenditure on these fake asylum seekers amounts to over a billion dollars, including the provision of a HK$1,200 food allowance to claimants, a monthly rental subsidy of HK$1,500 per adult, and approximately HK$1,800 in other basic humanitarian assistance, along with food coupons and even physical food supplies. This truly exemplifies the notion of “Hong Kong has it all, how can one bear to leave?”

Even local taxpayers and mainland tourists, whom the Hong Kong government regards as “cash cows”, do not receive such VIP treatment. This highlights the fact that Hong Kong is a genuine haven for human rights, a city of hospitality, and a vibrant metropolis. It is worth noting that even the United Kingdom, Hong Kong’s former colonial master, has resorted to forcibly sending genuine refugees to Rwanda in Africa, leaving them to fend for themselves. In contrast, the Hong Kong government’s compassionate and generous treatment of bogus refugees, whose claims are rejected in 99% of cases, is truly unprecedented and unparalleled in the world.

Some of these bogus refugees have resided in Hong Kong for over a decade, starting families and even giving birth to children, which serves as a testament to the city’s excellent living conditions and hospitality. Moreover, they epitomise the true meaning of “independent travel”. Upon sneaking into Hong Kong, they need only raise their hands to lodge a claim, and the government will promptly issue them with a “recognizance paper”, granting them free rein to roam the city at will. They are at liberty to engage in illegal work or even burglarise homes with impunity.

These individuals have forged a symbiotic relationship with local criminal gangs, often joining forces to partake in nefarious activities. From drug trafficking and robbery to assault and swindling, the bogus refugees have left their mark on all manner of criminal enterprises. This serves as proof that as long as one possesses the ability and audacity, Hong Kong is an absolute goldmine of opportunities – a veritable paradise where fortunes can be made at every turn. If even bogus refugees can carve out a lucrative path, how can it be said that Hong Kong lacks the power to attract visitors or achieve prosperity?

The presence of bogus refugees in Hong Kong has long been a contentious issue. These individuals, often arriving under the guise of seeking asylum, have frequently been implicated in various social and legal challenges, ranging from petty thefts to more organised crime, straining public resources and affecting the city’s law and order situation. The financial burden on the taxpayer is substantial, with the government spending significant amounts annually on allowances and aid for these claimants. This situation not only impacts public expenditure but also potentially tarnishes Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe and welcoming tourist destination.

In response, the Hong Kong government has proposed more stringent measures to screen and expedite the removal of these non-genuine claimants. The Secretary for Security, in a recent legislative council session, outlined a multi-pronged strategy aimed at reducing the number of unsubstantiated claimants by at least 1,200 each year. This approach includes enhancing cooperation with mainland authorities, maintaining high efficiency in screening processes, and streamlining the processing time of cases. Such measures are crucial not only in safeguarding the city’s social fabric but also in ensuring that public resources are judiciously utilised, thereby indirectly supporting the tourism sector.

By addressing the issue of bogus refugees effectively, Hong Kong can achieve a dual benefit. Firstly, it enhances the city’s security and public order, making it a safer place for both residents and tourists. Secondly, it ensures that the tourism sector is not adversely affected by the activities of these non-genuine claimants, thereby supporting the government’s broader economic goals. Tourists are more likely to visit destinations that are not only attractive but also safe and well-regulated.

The treatment and management of refugees and asylum seekers are sensitive topics globally. Hong Kong’s approach, particularly the focus on bogus claimants, might draw criticism from international observers concerned with human rights. However, it is essential for the city to balance humanitarian responsibilities with practical governance, ensuring that its international obligations are met without compromising on public safety and resource allocation.