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Tuesday, October 4, 2016, 00:13

HK unlikely to have the last laugh in ‘Golden Week’

By Luo Weiteng
HK unlikely to have the last laugh in ‘Golden Week’
Tourists queuing up outside a store in Tsim Sha Tsui on Sunday — the second day of the “Golden Week” holiday break. Hong Kong witnessed flat growth in the number of mainland visitor arrivals from a year ago. (Photo provide to China Daily)

As millions of Chinese mainland tourists set off on the big annual National Day holiday exodus, Hong Kong, it seems, is at the losing end.

Earlier forecasts of yet another lackluster “Golden Week” by Hong Kong’s struggling tourism business have well been confirmed, with mainland holidaymakers coming in modest numbers and continuing to hold on to their wallets.

While new records are likely to be set, both in tourist numbers and spending by mainland travelers within the country and overseas this year, Hong Kong is unlikely to benefit a great deal.

According to Hong Kong’s Immigration Department, 526,645 mainland visitors entered the city between Friday and Sunday — a rise of just 1 percent from the same period last year.

Last Saturday — the first day of the “Golden Week” — saw only a 3-percent increase in the number of mainland arrivals to 188,351, compared with the same day in 2015.

The flat growth won’t mean a roaring business for the city’s hard-pressed retailers, who are still feeling the pinch since mainland tourist numbers began shrinking in June last year following a series of local protests against both parallel goods traders and mainland visitors.

The Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong reported a 35-percent tumble in the number of mainland group tours to the city on the first day of the National Day holidays last week to 150, compared with 225 a year ago and lower than the council’s estimate of 180.

Conspicuously absent are the noisy street scenes, the hustle and bustle in street-side pharmacies and jewelry and watch stores, as well as the unending long queues outside luxury shops in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, that had been the hallmark of previous long holiday breaks, and the prime congregation points for free spending mainland tourists.

“Those scenes, it appears, are a thing of the past. You may recall that when Hong Kong first opened its doors to mainland tourists under the Individual Visit Scheme more than a decade ago, you really had to squeeze through layers and layers of mainland tourists at most of the cross-boundary checkpoints. This morning, I could hardly see more than 10 mainland people waiting to enter Hong Kong at the Luohu control point,” a Shenzhen resident, who commutes daily to work in Hong Kong, told China Daily on Monday.

Similar observations came from Cheng Fuping, a visitor from Sichuan province. “A few years ago when I first visited Hong Kong, the Luohu checkpoint was packed to the hilt, and railings had to be put up to control the huge crowds coming in. But, this morning, when I crossed the boundary, there were no such railings and the huge crowds were all gone.”

According to Lam Chi-ting, general secretary of the Federation of Hong Kong Trade Unions in Tourism, the majority of the mainland arrivals are day trippers from Guangdong province or those on transit to other destinations. Mainland travelers who stay overnight seem to be no more than 40 percent.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) said total tourism expenditure by overnight visitors in the first six months of this year reached HK$80.61 billion, representing a year-on-year drop of 16.4 percent and dwarfing the HK$32.9 billion total spending by same-day travellers, which posted a drop of 20.9 percent on a yearly basis.

Lam said that amid sluggish global economies, it’s something of a big trend for tourists, not just for mainland visitors, to tighten their belts.

Mainland visitors, who accounted for 75.6 percent of Hong Kong’s total tourist arrivals in the first seven months of this year, spent an average of HK$7,105 per person in the city in the first half of 2016 — down almost 16 percent from the previous year — the HKTB said.
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