PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 12:00am

I KNOW IT from personal experience. Upper Stubbs Road is virtually impassable at dusk these days because of the traffic jams caused by tourist coaches going up and down to The Peak and stopping along the way.

It tells me what I confirmed from the latest release of figures yesterday. We are in the middle of what Saddam Hussein might call the mother of all tourist booms. Visitor arrivals last month were up more than 30 per cent over September last year and we have not seen that sort of growth figure for 10 years.

Now I shall stop here and make my usual proviso. These growth figures go up and down from month to month like a seismograph needle in an earthquake and you really need to look at them on a six-month-average basis to be sure of the trend.

This is what the first chart shows in the red line and the growth rate then comes to 17.7 per cent, which is still very high, in fact the highest in Asia at the moment.

But now we shall play games with the figures. What really counts is not just how many visitors come but how long they stay, and estimates from the Hong Kong Tourism Board say the figure has been rising this year. Take the number of visitor arrivals times the average number of nights they stay, calculate the growth rate again and you get the blue line in the chart, a whopping 34 per cent.

Just to put it into perspective, the green line at the bottom of the chart shows you the equivalent figures for Singapore.

All this needs further perspective, however. It is visitors from China that have produced this boom. As the second chart shows, the growth rate of their arrivals, adjusted for length of stay, is an astounding 81 per cent. They now account for more than 40 per cent of all arrivals. Ten years ago that figure was 14 per cent.

And this should tell you that visitors from elsewhere are not streaming in at the same rate. The numbers are up but if the 8 per cent growth rate the chart shows was all that total visitor arrival growth had registered, I would be writing about something else today.

That brings me to my final point. The length of stay figures are rough estimates. We have firm figures only for last year and we also have no recent figures on how much visitors from different countries are spending.

This is regrettable because the figures last year suggested that visitors from China could be spending as much per person now as visitors from elsewhere and they spend very heavily in shops. Our retailers could do with such information.

The reason they do not have it is that the tourism board has farmed out collection of these statistics to other agencies, among them pollsters ACNielsen, the people who tell you that you really like noise on the bus (you believe it, don't you?).

Come on, fellas, get on with the job or give it to someone else.

Graphic: jake30gbz