Lau helter-skelter cries out for Yang fix

Editorial | Mary Ma 31 Aug 2018

If Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, our illustrious Secretary for Innovation and Technology, has been waiting for an opportunity to convince the public he's well worth the lucrative pay and perks that comes with his job, here's his chance.

Hong Kong ballyhoos itself as a world-class city, but when it comes to online ticket bookings, the boast is laughable.

We are woefully reminded of the lack of a credible booking system every time a popular concert or comedy show is held at the Hong Kong Coliseum, our most prestigious venue where artists take immense pride in performing.

In the latest incident, knives were drawn and injuries inflicted as gangs jockeyed for prime positions in the queue.

As a result, the concert organizer for Andy Lau Tak-wah's performances suspended the plan to sell tickets over the counter, instead restricting sales to the Urbtix website, or its mobile app and telephone bookings by credit card.

But can this solve a problem that's making the SAR notorious for ticket scalping? Even the organizer has conceded this is their only choice - in the absence of a better alternative.

While that may be the only option at present, my concern is that until Yang does what's expected of his role to bring the city a technology revolution, we'll have to live with the status quo, which only promises more frustration.

If booth sales are maintained, fans at best will have to spend cold wet nights camping outside ticket offices. At worst, they could face the potential deadly threat of knife-wielding gangs.

If sales are confined to the internet, there is also the grim reality that one must struggle to log onto websites that often stall or crash as soon as sales open. And even when one gets through, it's common to find tickets sold out due to programmed buying.

Almost at the same time, those tickets are put up for sale on other sites demanding many times the original face value.

So, expect to hear an avalanche of complaints after ticket sales for Lau's 20 performances at the Coliseum starts on Tuesday. It should never be like that since Hongkongers deserve a lifestyle befitting a world-class city.

As the highly-paid technology czar, Yang should be expected to come up with a solution.

It's curious to note that among the handful of prosecutions, most defendants were convicted for breaching their conditions of stay rather than for scalping. Perhaps authorities prefer pursuing the alternative charge - since it's punishable by imprisonment - while scalping would result in a fine at most.

I remember Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promising back in March to review the law concerned in light of similar ticketing uproars over performances by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi and talk-show comedian Dayo Wong Tze-wah.

What's the progress to date?

While it may be too big a step to take for both home affairs minister Lau Kong-wah, who is overseeing the review, and Yang to revolutionize the system with artificial intelligence and big data, nevertheless they obviously aren't working hard enough.

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