Hong Kong, Macau urged to tighten visa rules for Chinese visitors

FOLLOWING a record three million tourists from China over the Lunar New Year holiday to Hong Kong and Macau, which resulted in considerable strain on infrastructure, residents in both cities are calling for the authorities to review visa rules for Chinese visitors.

During the festive season, Hong Kong experienced a shortage of hotel rooms and saturation of visitors at popular attractions, while Macau saw run-ins at its border crossings.

Hong Kong chief executive, Leung Chun Ying, acknowledged that the influx of tourists was overcrowding the city and pledged that his government would ensure daily lives of people were not affected in the pursuit of tourist numbers, reported local broadsheet The Straits Times.

Blame has been accorded to the decade-old individual visitor scheme (IVS), which was conceived in 2003 in the wake of the SARS crisis to allow tourists from China to enter Hong Kong and Macau individually rather than as part of group tours. Last year, two-thirds of Chinese visitors entered Hong Kong through the IVS.

On the other hand, Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) chairman, James Tien, said calls to restrict the IVS and cap the number of visitors ran counter to Hong Kong’s free market ethos, The Straits Times report added.

HKTB executive director Anthony Lau was also quoted by the report as saying that since the social tensions partly arose from day-trippers from Guangdong, the problem should be resolved in ways outside the IVS’ purview, such as building a border shopping town for such visitors.

Meanwhile, the Macanese government said it would improve checkpoints and find ways to spread tourists in the city.

Hong Kong saw a record 48.6 million tourist arrivals last year, predominantly from China. The number of Chinese tourists surged 24 per cent from 2011, comprising 72 per cent of all arrivals. Macau received 28 million tourists, 17 million from China.

– Read Raini Hamdi’s blog and opinion in TTG Asia February 22-March 7, 2013

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