In the past three weeks, I’ve been in Hong Kong and Taiwan; several things that happened while I was there led me to think about their competitiveness in the age of the customer.

I was in Hong Kong to moderate three panels at a CIO summit. During a break, I chatted with a Singaporean CIO who’s been working in Hong Kong for 15 years but is thinking about moving back. We discussed the recent criticisms of mainland Chinese who allow their small children to pee by the curb of main thoroughfares. Hong Kong media and residents have been quick to criticize mainland parents without listening to their explanations that the city doesn’t have enough public toilets and that there are long queues at every shopping mall — hardly a surprise given that Hong Kong attracts more than 100 million visitors from mainland China each year.

Yesterday, I read that Hong Kong’s chief executive is considering limiting the number of mainland visitors to address local residents’ complaints. I wonder what impact passing such a bill would have on the city’s retail revenue growth, employment rate, commercial property prices, attractiveness towards global investment — even its economic freedom index ranking. As my CIO friend asked me: “Imagine what would happen if, for just one day, no mainland tourists came to Hong Kong. What impact would that have on Hong Kong’s retail, property, and financial markets?” I had no answer for that.

On to Taiwan: I was just in Taipei for a couple of days on business. I go to Taipei at least once a year, but this is the first time I’ve gotten the impression that Taiwan is really losing its attractiveness, despite the fact that I really love the city’s culture and food.

I had dinner with clients on two consecutive nights at renowned, top-rated restaurants in Taipei’s Hsin Yi district — the most international area for foreign visitors. However, none of the waitstaff at either restaurant spoke English, so I had to do all the translating for my American friends: ordering wine, asking about the food — even requesting the bill! In any restaurant in Beijing or Shanghai at this level, they are definitely hiring employees who speak English, and as a result they probably charge at least double what their Taiwanese counterparts do.

Companies that can’t focus on winning, serving, and retaining customers will fail in the age of the customer. They will have to keep cutting costs to survive unless they can figure out why they’re losing customers. In Hong Kong’s case, even thinking about limiting the number of mainland tourists could have serious consequences for the overall economy; can’t the city’s chief executive or property developers just build a more toilets?

I don’t usually write blog posts that aren’t directly related to technology, but thinking about what I’ve witnessed in the past three weeks — I think it might be an interesting topic open for discussion. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.