Money makes the world, especially HK, go round.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ SHY Ventures
Monday, 24th July 2006
It's been a bumpy ride, not just for Yeoh Siew Hoon aboard her Cathay Pacific flight, but also for Hong Kong's government as they strive to quell growing concerns about taxes, the Star Ferry and the environment.

It was a bumpy landing in Hong Kong as was to be expected. Typhoon Bilis had just swept through Taiwan and Fujian province, killing people and flooding places, and had just skirted round the SAR, leaving strong winds in its wake.

At the start of the flight from Singapore, the Cathay Pacific captain had told us in his dulcet tones that because of certain technicalities and weather conditions, he would have to apply greater reverse thrust on landing, "Don't be alarmed," he reassured us.

Photo by Jennifer Welker

The passenger next to me gripped his seat and asked, "Do you know what that means?"

Not knowing, I nodded and said, "It'll be alright. Don't worry. In times of typhoon, I trust the men in green more than anyone else."

It is true. There's something reassuring about those Cathay pilots that do not make me turn green when the airplane is jerked around like a tin can in turbulence, as we were on this particular flight.

As we landed with a thud, I thought about Donald Tsang, the Hong Kong chief executive who, on the very same day, landed in Singapore for a visit to find out how the city-state does what it does so well, and to see if Hong Kong could take lessons.

In particular, he is impressed with the quality of the civil service in Singapore and thinks it may have something to do with the competitive salaries Singapore pays its public sector.

As with anything that might even suggest that Singapore is better in any way and that Hong Kong could learn from it, the Hong Kong media was not impressed.

A cartoon appeared in the South China Morning Post. It showed two talking heads. One asked, "So what did you learn in Singapore?" The Tsang look-alike replied, "Shut up and do what you are told lah."

I mentioned this to a hotel CEO over lunch and he said, "Well at least the Singapore government makes decisions that people can follow."

Top of the list of gripes currently in Hong Kong is the proposed introduction of a 5% GST. The tax is expected to yield HK$20 billion in annual revenue and is part of the government's tax reforms and attempts to broaden the tax base beyond the 1.2 million of the 3.4 million working folks who pay salaries tax.

The travel industry is up in arms and wonders why bodies such as the Hong Kong Tourism Board are not kicking up a bigger fuss other than expressing concern and saying it will gather feedback from the travel trade and visitors.

The trade is concerned it will affect tourist spending. Last year, average spending per overnight trip for all overseas visitors was $4,600. Biggest spenders were Americans ($5,477), while Europeans averaged $5.331. Mainland overnight visitors spent $4,544 but it doesn't take a genius to realise that Chinese visitors will soon become the biggest spenders – they pack restaurants and shopping malls everywhere in Hong Kong.

"The tax does not make sense. Not only will it dampen overall consumer sentiment but Hong Kong will look even more expensive with everything so cheap in neighbouring Macau and Shenzen," said Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association president Paul Yeung Yiu-lam.

Another ongoing gripe is the proposal to move the Star Ferry terminal away from its location in Central. This, the company said, could cause the company to lose 30% of its business and critics say this could harm what is Hong Kong's most famous tourism icon.

Pollution levels are another sore point and so far, no politician has dared to stand up for the cause. One organisation though has called for a three-minute lights out on August 8 at 8pm.

I asked why not eight minutes and I was immediately put down. "Eight minutes is too long. What would we do in the dark?"

And that, in a nutshell, is Hong Kong. Time is money. The GST is about making more money; money is behind the Star Ferry's move; and the air pollution levels are a result of money being made in factories across the border, among other things.

And oh yes, the reason why Singapore's public sector works? It's down to money.

Guess I'd better shut up and do as I am told lah.

The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection".

She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.

Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460

Yeoh Siew Hoon's other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com
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