Long National Day queues expected
Amy Nip and Simpson Cheung
An estimated 5.65 million visitors are expected to cross the border during the National Day 'golden week' holiday, a 17 per cent rise on last year.
However, tourism experts warn the immigration hardware has not kept up with the increase in visitor numbers, which will mean long queues.
About 2.09 million passengers, around 299,000 a day, are expected to pass through the Lo Wu border checkpoint, the Immigration Department said. The busiest day will be the Chung Yeung Festival on October 5, when about 198,000 people are expected to leave Hong Kong as 180,000 arrive in the city.
Lok Ma Chau and the Shenzhen Bay border checkpoint will each see more than 90,000 visitors. Up to 400 tour groups could arrive in the city every day during the week, the Travel Industry Council has predicted.
While the government vowed to minimise the number of staff taking leave and to add counters and kiosks for immigration clearance, tour guides predicted visitors would have to spend about four hours in queues at land border checkpoints. They want more permanent counters to be established in the long term.
Simon Hau Suk-kei, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators Association, said mainland visitors usually faced long queues at the border during holidays. 'For peak seasons like the May 1 or the October 1 'golden week' holiday, we have experienced queues of up five to six hours at immigration,' he said. 'Many tourists were very angry.'
This had been a problem since 2003, when the mainland government started to allow travellers to visit Hong Kong and Macau on an individual basis, he said. Tour groups usually use the Lok Ma Chau and Shenzhen Bay checkpoints, while individual visitors use Lo Wu.
To shorten the waiting time, a scheme is in place to allow guides to pre-register the visa numbers of tour members before crossing the border. But Hau hopes in the long term the Immigration Department will expand border checkpoint buildings and add more counters.
Tourism sector lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said the government should turn some counters handling cargo into ones for people.
Meanwhile, visitors are advised to book hotels in advance. Michael Li Hon-shing, of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said three- to four-star hotels were more than 90 per cent full from October 1 to 3.