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Befuddled: Does Hong Kong Tourism Need Restructuring?

While the covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused a series of unfortunate events and terrible consequences for people all over the world, it has also given us a chance to take a second look at the currently (dys)functioning systems and ponder not only on why our collective response to the crisis was not as efficient as it could have been but also how to avoid such unsatisfactory results in the future, since many experts believe this sort of global health emergencies might as well become somewhat of a norm. A case in point is Hong Kong. Over the years, several proposals for structural reorganization, including the governance of the tourism sector, have been moved forward by the Hong Kong government. Perhaps, the time for bold action has finally arrived?

Specifically, multiple players in the tourism industry have called for the establishment of a tourism bureau with the main aim of independently handling tourism affairs and solving the problem of inconsistent or conflicting policies from multiple departments. Moreover, there are examples of a successful switch like that. China, for instance, is managing everything from sightseeing, eating, and shopping to promoting the magnificence of its culture as a part of one governing body, which allows it a much higher efficiency level.

Timothy Chui, the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, and Casper Wong, the vice-chairperson of the Third Side, are calling for a similar change in Hong Kong, citing the relative unfamiliarity of certain departments with the operations of the tourism industry. For example, the Home Affairs Department’s policies on hotels, motels, and guest houses and the Transport Department’s policies on the management of travel coaches and tourism foot flow seem to be inadequate for a smooth system run, as they sometimes go against what the Tourism Commission, the Travel Industry Council, and the Hong Kong Tourism Board are trying to promote.

Mr. Chui and Mr. Wong are further suggesting three innovative moves. First, it is necessary to strengthen coordination within the government. High-level centralization and enhancing cross-departmental cooperation have proven to be effective under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, but such a positive experience does not extend beyond the bureau just yet. Second, genuine accountability for principal officials must be kept in check. This would in turn help to regain public support and ensure policies are implemented effectively. Third, efficiency in dealing with conflicts between accountable officials and civil servants is crucial. To make public officials truly accountable it is necessary to ensure there is no conflict between their current powers and responsibilities and those of civil servants.

Thus, the prosperity of Hong Kong’s tourism sector seems to be a question of quality rather than quantity. As the business world is going through multiple changes at once, adapting to the new work models, labor markets, and consumer behavior, will the governance bodies be able to follow suit?

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