SCMP Saturday, August 25, 2001
Industry hails tonic for tourism
CHOW CHUNG-YAN, CHEUNG CHI-FAI and ANTOINE SO
The $18 billion Tourism Hong Kong package unveiled yesterday was hailed as a major tonic for the industry - although there was a warning that the broader economy may not benefit from the measures.
Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced that $18 billion would be spent between next year and 2006 on turning five districts into tourism hubs.
The proposals included projects already announced in planning reports - but none had previously received a funding pledge.
The executive director of the Hong Kong Travel Industry Council, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, said Mr Tung's funding pledge was a "firm commitment" which meant the projects had effectively been given the green light.
"The projects have been merely talked about in the past in consultation and other planning studies," he said.
"Now that Mr Tung made mention of them and spelt out the amount of money to be spent, it should be taken as a blessing for the projects."
He said the measures would not only eventually create long-term jobs in the industry, but would also provide tens of thousands of short-term jobs during the construction stage of the projects.
He said that the council was working on training plans to upgrade the service skills of about 2,000 escort guides.
However, economics professor Dr Francis Lui Ting-ming warned that the package amounted to a taxpayer-funded subsidy.
Dr Lui, director of the centre for economic development at the University of Science and Technology, said there was a lack of detail on how the projects would be implemented.
"It will help the tourism industry, but whether it will benefit the economy as a whole is questionable," Dr Lui said.
"In a way, it's a kind of subsidy of the tourism industry by public money, but how much good it's going to do to Hong Kong overall is unknown as yet."
The general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, said that while the latest tourism boost could help provide short-term jobs, the Government should provide better training for low-skilled workers if it wanted to keep jobless rates down in the long term.
"This kind of tourism boost certainly could create some jobs in the short run," Mr Lee said.
"But I hope the sightseeing attractions they're going to provide will be innovative or nobody will be coming to Hong Kong still."
Tourism legislator Howard Young said that although the new measures could bring jobs to Hong Kong, the Government should also simplify procedures for Taiwan tourists visiting the SAR.
Green group activist Lister Cheung Lai-ping of the Conservancy Association warned yesterday that too many developments for tourism could damage the environment.