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Thursday, September 24, 2015, 08:48

Plan may provide online travel permits to 20m mainlanders

By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong

Online travel permits for 20 million mainland e-passport holders are being considered by the Travel Industry Council and business lawmakers to boost falling inbound visitor numbers.

The plan was forwarded by the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA) to ease travel permits for mainland tourists who are not residents of the 49 cities already covered by the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS).

Executive Council member and BPA Vice-Chairman Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung said on Wednesday that the idea aims to tap into the spending power of millions of mainland e-passport holders.

Lam told local radio that attracting this untapped market could boost Hong Kong’s economy. The local economy is facing a dire outlook following an appreciation of the US dollar and bad publicity caused by “nativist” protesters. These events have conspired to reduce visitor numbers from the mainland.

Potential tourists from the cities not covered in the IVS will be allowed to enter Hong Kong after securing online approval. They will be able to do this without the need to join a tour group or have a valid business travel permit.

Travel Industry Council Chairman Michael Wu Siu-ying said the proposal was timely because regional competitors in South Korea and Japan were drawing greater numbers of mainland tourists after relaxing visa requirements.

Wu said the government has expressed optimism at the proposal. It hopes it can be launched soon, as the city nears the National Day golden week holiday. This is a traditionally lucrative festival for Hong Kong’s tourism and retail operators.

Final approval rests with the Hong Kong and central governments.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung said the government would vet the proposal. It will examine some of the consequences of expanding entry conditions.

The move comes as Hong Kong Tourism Board Chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok expects authorities to expand the IVS to more cities. The last extension of the scheme was by eight cities, in 2007.

Roughly a quarter of the mainland’s passport holders have electronic-ready versions. Some 47 million mainland visitors entered the city in 2014 — 66.3 percent of which entered via the IVS.

In terms of spending, IVS tourists are usually repeat day-trippers, accounting for 22.2 percent of total retail sales in 2013, with non-IVS mainland visitors making up 12 percent and non-mainland visitors contributing 4.1 percent, according to the Census and Statistics Bureau.

It is hoped the new e-passport scheme will attract more overnight tourists, who typically outspend their single-day counterparts.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board said earlier this month that overall arrivals dropped by 8.4 percent to 4.92 million in July. Travelers from the mainland fell by 9.8 percent to 3.85 million.

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