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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Philippine Visitors are Integral to Hong Kong's Economy... Maybe Not.

In recent news, Hong Kong cancels visa free access to all Filipino government officials and diplomats for failure to issue a formal apology about the deadly hostage taking that took place in 2010. It could be worse, but it seems that they are threatening to do more.

When I talk to friends about the possibility that HK would eventually scrap visa free access to all Filipinos, most of them scoff at the idea. The Philippines is such an integral part of Hong Kong's economy, they say. And many Filipino visitors would just go to another country and spend their money elsewhere. They would never do that. This seemed plausible, given that I myself had gone to HK several times to shop and spend. But I decided to check the data anyway and figure out how crucial Philippine tourism actually is to HK. I found that perhaps not very much.

Below is a pie chart of total arrivals in HK in 2013 by country of origin. Out of 54 million visitors to Hong Kong, only 705 thousand are Filipinos. That is a measly 1%. On the other hand, tourists from mainland China made up 75%.

Neither are these numbers particularly changed, when you exclude Chinese tourists. Filipino tourists only make up 5% of total arrivals to HK.

Meanwhile, what I can say is, it seems somewhat irresponsible of the Philippine government if it continues to refuse issuing a formal apology that would put a stop to needless sanctions. As I understand it, this is all HK is asking for. It costs nothing, except perhaps the pride of our politicians. No, apologizing does not mean we will always be obsequious to HK or to China, as some argue. This is quite the slippery slope argument anyway. 

An apology is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a sign of responsible leadership.

[The data source for the charts above are from Hong Kong's Tourism Board]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A History of Destructive Typhoons in the Philippines: 1930-2013

When Typhoon Haiyan struck, the skeptic that I am hesitated to believe what news outlets reported about the event. It was an emotional time and many sounded sensational. Was it in fact the most disastrous typhoon ever to hit the Philippines? Are extreme weather events indeed increasing in this country? Where was the evidence?

Today, three months late, I have looked at the data. The source is the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database ( hosted by Universit√© catholique de Louvain. It records natural disasters defined under 4 criteria. I focus on typhoons and floods that have afflicted the Philippines from 1930 to the end of the data, September 2013. Thus, while Haiyan has not yet been entered in the dataset, I include it under the assumption that it killed ~6000 and affected 15M according to the UNFPA.

The results are below. My questions answered in 3 graphs:

Before anyone claims the above as definitive evidence of climate change though, I offer two caveats. Could the increasing incidence of typhoons reflect better capabilities over time to record natural calamities? I am unsure and unfortunately have not read enough about the data to judge. But there appear to be a significant number of zeros and missing data that occur prior to 1963, so I want to caution readers about this limitation. Next, that natural disasters increase in occurrence could merely be a function of population. Over time, more people are hit by typhoons because there are simply more people. Nevertheless, the data does seem to show that the Philippines is subject to greater risk over time. I am interested in reading further analysis on the topic.