Boom in outbound travel over Easter break

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2006, 12:00am

Growing trend of last-minute bookings leaves travel agents battling to cope

The travel industry has seen a boom in outbound travel for the coming Easter holiday, with one travel agent reporting a 10 per cent increase in bookings and the Immigration Department predicting a 7.6 per cent increase in cross-border traffic.

Hong Thai Travel director Jackie Wong See-sum said the improving economy and gradually subsiding shadow of the tsunami disaster in 2004 were two major reasons behind the growth.

He said business was up 10 per cent last Easter and bookings of tour groups and travel packages were full a week ago.

The Immigration Department expected the number of incoming and outgoing travellers to reach 4.77 million during the four-day holiday, which starts on Friday.

Despite the growth, some of the benefits were offset by the changing habits of local travellers.

'Hong Kong people are becoming more accustomed to last-minute travel planning, they make bookings just one day before their proposed departure,' said Richard Willis, chairman of Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents.

He said business opportunities had been lost due to difficulties for the agencies in making last-minute arrangements.

Hong Thai Travel general manager Susanna Lau Mei-sze said the trend did pose a lot of administrative challenges for local travel agents. 'Sometimes we release a hotel room or a flight seat prematurely because of a delay of confirmation in booking, and business is lost,' she said.

Interest in the Middle East has also revived since the fatal bus crash in Egypt, which left 14 dead and 30 injured in January.

'Tour group business to the Middle East dropped slightly right after the accident, but its impact has now receded and the number of Middle East tour groups are back to normal,' Ms Lau said.

Thailand, the mainland, South Korea and Japan continued to top the list of popular destinations for Hongkongers, while Taiwan has seen the biggest increase of travellers this year.

The number of holidaymakers to the mainland is expected to rise by a further 6.6 per cent this year to 3.51 million, the Immigration Department said yesterday.

The department warned that cross-border traffic will begin to heighten from tomorrow and reach its peak on Friday of 375,000 people a day.

The Lok Ma Chau crossing will particularly feel the stress, with its daily passenger flow expected to reach 158,000, until next Tuesday, an increase of 16.9 per cent over last year.

Travellers are advised to use the Lowu control point to avoid congestion.

The Immigration Department said it will deploy more staff to meet the demand during the holidays.

It has also set up two meeting places at the Lowu checkpoint at the exit of the e-channel, in a move to strengthen use of the automated passenger clearance system.