Hong Kong needs more smile, less snarl
IN ONE breath, we were told that a campaign named "happy@Hongkong" had just been launched to restore the city's image as a friendly place to visit. Then, we were flabbergasted to find that Hong Kong had finished 39th, or third last, in a survey of 41 countries or regions on whether shop assistants greet customers with a friendly smile.
What a slap in the face for Hong Kong, and what a painful blow to our city's image.
As the chief executive of one of our leading public relations companies rightly said: "The timing could not have been worse - what a terrible PR disaster. I would hate to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild Hong Kong's image after a train wreck like this."
On top of this, customer service staff in Hong Kong also received a black mark for the frigid reception they gave the people who were actually carrying out the survey.
Only 58 out of every 100 were rewarded with a smile and a friendly greeting, placing Hong Kong second last in this category. The "winner" was our neighbour Macau, which was rewarded for its surly response to customers and came in last with 53 per cent.
As painful as these findings are, they are a true picture of Hong Kong's societal values today.
This unwelcoming and unfriendly situation among sales staff is symptomatic of the mood of negativity and churlishness that has taken such a firm grip across Hong Kong.
The reaction of some people might be to say: "So what - it's just another survey. They're always criticising us. Who cares?" To which the answer is that everybody in Hong Kong should care a great deal because it involves our future economic stability, which is so closely interwoven with the tourism industry.
What would be the point of building a third runway at the international airport if the anticipated visitors from overseas are not turning up?
How will our hotels and the associated hospitality industry survive unless we continue not just to attract visitors, but greet them with genuine warmth and make them feel welcome and ready to open their wallets?
The sad fact is that today's Hong Kong is crawling with sourpusses who - for no apparent reason - have a king-size chip on their shoulder. One look at them and visitors of the future will start asking themselves whether they made a costly error in choosing Hong Kong as their travel destination.
For example, let us reflect on how we treat one another from the start of the work day.
When you get into the lift in the morning to go to work, how often do you hear a friendly "good morning" being said? No. Instead, you have to fight your way in, and your chest still hurts from a blow from an elbow.
And when you enter your office, how many colleagues offer a friendly smile and cheery word? Regrettably, most of us seem so caught up in the daily "rat race" that we have forgotten our manners.
But such unfriendliness is not limited to office workers. Walk along a street anywhere on either side of the harbour and you will encounter grim-faced people who do not hesitate to bump into you if you do not get out of their way.
Then there are the mobile phone morons jabbering away at the top of their voices, oblivious to others in public places and likely to walk over you if you are not careful. Every section of the community has its share of such unfeeling nasties.
A couple who returned here after 20 years "because we missed Hong Kong so much" related a series of unpleasant experiences that were a major turn-off.
"When looking for gifts to take back to our family in Canada, we found staff at luxury stores unwelcoming and distinctly abrupt. The standard of service was most disappointing. The general atmosphere in Hong Kong was quite unfriendly. About the only place that didn't seem to have changed much was the Temple Street Night Market in Yau Ma Tei - that was probably our most enjoyable experience. We won't be back," they said.
What has gone wrong with Hong Kong and its outgoing and welcoming spirit of yesteryear? It seems that in recent years, we have stumbled from one negative development to another, which many would blame on the political tension in the air brought on by the endless arguments over universal suffrage.
The recent decision to restrict the movements of parallel traders across our borders might help reduce social friction.
But having to resort to such drastic measures certainly did not enhance our reputation as a "shoppers' paradise". It will also make cashed-up mainlanders think twice about visiting a city which has made its dislike of them known.
The proposed "happy@Hongkong" campaign is sorely needed, but its success hinges entirely on the Hong Kong people getting behind it and giving it their full support.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The writer is a former journalist and civil servant.