【明報專訊】PASSENGER FLOW on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) has reached a new high, with tour groups from the mainland cropping up at Tung Chung on two consecutive weekends. As some of these tour groups were neither approved by the mainland authorities nor registered with the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, it is suspected that they were irregular. Since the opening of the HZMB, the SAR government has been focusing on the prevention of traffic congestion without giving much thought to how the surge in people will put a strain on the Tung Chung community. Such a lack of consideration has caused chaotic scenes one after another. Not only are complaints from Tung Chung residents everywhere, but tourists also think that they are paying for an unenjoyable experience. The government must discuss the matter of irregular tour groups with the mainland authorities as soon as possible. It should, at the same time, come up with ways to divert the crowds and upgrade the ancillary facilities so as to reduce the strain on the community. Otherwise, new conflicts between China and Hong Kong might be triggered.
More than 100,000 people entered or left Hong Kong via the HZMB on the second Sunday after its opening. Some of them were on single-day tours. They departed from Zhuhai to appreciate the bridge and, having crossed the border through Hong Kong Port, stayed for a while before returning to Zhuhai. Many of these tour groups involved are suspected of illegal operation. Not only did they lack approval from the mainland authorities, but they also failed to register with the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong 48 hours before they visited Hong Kong, which is required by the regulations. Furthermore, they were not received by a Hong Kong travel agency. Tour leaders who worked as tour guides after they arrived in Hong Kong were in fact working illegally.
These irregular tour groups did not have a specific itinerary after their arrival in Hong Kong. Most of them just arranged for the tourists to take a bus to Tung Chung, the nearest place to the bridge, where they took a rest or went shopping. As a result the town centre of Tung Chung was "bursting at the seams", with eateries and shops crowded with tourists. At dusk, when the tourists were due to return to Zhuhai, hundreds of them formed long queues at Tung Chung's bus stations, waiting for buses that would take them to the Hong Kong Port of the bridge.
True, the string of missteps that happened soon after the bridge's opening had been expected. However, over the past two weeks, there was first the incident of "golden buses" failing to cope with the demand, resulting in long queues at Hong Kong port, which was followed by the huge number of irregular tour groups packing the Tung Chung town centre to capacity. All this shows the government's lack of consideration of the problems caused by a surge in people.
The government formulated the Concept Plan for Lantau as early as the year 2004. Back then, it was suggested that northern Lantau Island should be the focus of the development of primary economic infrastructure as well as tourist and leisure facilities. But there has been a lot of hemming and hawing for years, and progress has been slow. The first phase of the SkyCity project, initiated by the Airport Authority Hong Kong, was completed in 2008, but the second phase is still in an initial stage. As for the 150-hectare artificial island for the Hong Kong port of the HZMB, it is still on the drawing board. The HZMB has opened, so will the third runway of the airport in five years at the earliest. This means that more visitors will come to and leave Hong Kong. As northern Lantau Island is the bridgehead for tourists' entry and departure, it is necessary for the government to come up with a comprehensive plan and swiftly increase the capacity of the whole area of northern Lantau Island. More hemming and hawing will only put increasing pressure on regions like Tung Chung.
be bursting at the seams : to be very full, especially of people
misstep : a mistake; a wrong action
on the drawing board : being prepared or considered