As a fan of Mayday, a popular band from Taiwan, and local singer Eason Chan Yick-shun, I had a hard time buying their concert tickets in Hong Kong for years. Back when I was a student in Hong Kong, I had to save up enough of my allowance and squeeze a chunk of money from my living expenses. The hard truth was when I finally saved up enough to buy myself a front-row ticket for Mayday’s concert at the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom, I couldn’t even log onto the official ticket-selling website. I had to turn to an online platform for students selling second-hand furniture or books. From there, I finally bought the ticket at 20 percent or so higher.
That was about seven years ago and things have not improved. Earlier, local standup comedian and actor Dayo Wong Tze-wah made an angry appeal to the public through a video on his social media account, urging them not to buy scalped tickets. His call was backed up by a public that has suffered ticket scalping for a long time. Wong, who said the coming show would be his swan song, found out that tickets were sold at 18 times higher than the original prices, and had sold out in hours.
There are reasons for worsening ticket scalping. The relevant laws and regulations are outdated; the lucrative business draws very lenient punishment. Also government contracts for renting venues for public performance require a low threshold in the ratio of tickets being sold openly.
According to the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance, a ticket scalper, once convicted, is subject to a fine of HK$2,000. Adding to the woes is the venues managed by the government — for example the Coliseum and Queen Elizabeth Stadium, two very popular places for public performances — were not covered by the ordinance, leaving a loophole for scalpers.
For renting private venues, at least 50 percent of tickets will be reserved for public sale. However for performances at the Coliseum and Queen Elizabeth Stadium, the bar was lowered to 20 percent in 2001.
That means the organizer at the Coliseum, whose maximum capacity is 12,500 seats, can keep about 10,000 tickets, leaving only 2,500 for open sale.
Ticket scalping is not confined to Hong Kong. A lot of other places face the same issue. For example, tickets for a popular novel-turned drama in Australia — Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — were pushed to as much as HK$540,000 after scalpers swooped on the tickets using computer programs. The Australian government responded swiftly, amending regulations, prohibiting tickets being sold at 10 percent higher than original prices. Ticket scalpers, once found, are subject to a fine of about HK$2.86 million.
In the United States, multiple measures were rolled out to plug loopholes, including requiring audience members to present their or their relatives’ credit cards used for purchasing tickets.
As a matter of fact, we can learn from our Chinese mainland counterparts, which have successfully sold train tickets for their massive travel market online. Train tickets, with a real-name ticketing mechanism, require buyers and passengers to confirm identity when purchasing tickets and entering stations. The real-name mechanism has drastically lowered train ticket scalping on the mainland.
The Hong Kong government, on April 11, said a real-name ticketing arrangement is being tested and might be implemented in future.
Ticket scalping has not only harmed the hearts of fans like me, but also poses a threat to the healthy development of the art, culture and entertainment industry. When less and less people go for such performances because of skyrocketing prices, an improvement in the government’s lukewarm response will be too late.
Leisure events, especially art, culture and entertainment performances, have always been a popular hit for tourists from outside Hong Kong. If the city does want to make itself into a culture hub, measures to overhaul the ticket-selling system and update the law should be in place to mitigate the snowballing of ticket scalping.