AMID the recent public outcry over the difficulty to buy concert and entertainment show tickets scarce as gold dust and the rampant practice of consignment ticketing and touting activities, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has promised to review the relevant laws and raise the penalty. Although the problem of ticket scalping is not much of a major policy issue, people's desire for a fair and just ticketing arrangement should not be taken as an unreasonable demand. Good governance should be people-oriented. The Home Affairs Bureau should have long taken a proactive approach, plugged the legal loopholes and imposed effective measures to crack down on scalpers. It has no excuse for letting the Chief Executive get involved in everything while it remains laid-back, never starting to work unless given a push. Touting activities have plagued local people for many years. The procrastinating and slothful bureaucratic style reflected in the problem must be seriously addressed by the government.
All this has been going on in Hong Kong for many years. Whenever a popular show or an international event is to be staged, tickets are bound to be scalped. A ticket originally priced at several hundreds of dollars can easily be marked up to thousands of dollars on trading platforms online. People who cannot get tickets at normal price are left with no choice, no matter how furious they are. Some of them may have even accepted this "inevitable phenomenon" as a so-called example of the supply and demand principle. They have simply forgotten that the government is capable of and responsible for combatting those scalping gangs. But the issue has once again become a hot topic lately in the city. From ordinary citizens, celebrities to legislators, many have called for a tough crackdown by the government on touts so as to achieve fairness to citizens.
Yesterday (April 11), Lam indicated at the Legislative Council that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) will review the current laws and consider including LCSD venues as places where ticket touting is prohibited. The department will also study the possibility of increasing penalty and having a ticketing system on trial that requires people to register with their real names when purchasing tickets. Home Affairs Secretary Lau Kong-wah said as many as 80% of all tickets are now sold as "consignment tickets" but the proportion is too high. His bureau will adjust the ratio within this year to increase tickets available for public sale. At the same time it will also consult the Department of Justice about amending the laws.
Why is it that the scalpers seem to have no qualms about what they do? The main reason has been the big loopholes in the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance that prohibits ticket scalping. The ordinance stipulates that anyone who sells any tickets for admission to "licensed places of public entertainment" at a price higher than the official price shall be found guilty of an offence, which carries a maximum fine of $2,000. However, LCSD venues like the Hong Kong Coliseum and the Hong Kong Stadium are not covered by the ordinance because they are exempt from getting a license. Furthermore, the ordinance is not in pace with the times and cannot be used to target touting activities online. Considering the fact that tickets for popular shows and matches are rare commodities that can fetch high prices, the mere 2,000-dollar fine does not act as much of a deterrent.
The government's permission of consignment ticketing is also a factor that breeds ticket scalping. It is true that many performances involve business sponsors and may need greater flexibility in the allocation of tickets. But the requirement that organisers who hire LCSD venues have to allocate only "at least 20% of tickets for public sale" is really too low a threshold to meet. The authorities should have changed such terms long ago and should not have left the issue unaddressed until now. As for real name registration, it is an idea worth considering in combatting ticket scalping. Given the present level of information technology in Hong Kong, such an arrangement should not be that unachievable on the technical side. In fact, there is a big trend towards real name registration, with purposes ranging from combatting ticket scalping to enhancing security against terrorism. The biggest obstacle, however, is still procrastination on the part of officials.