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Asia travel

Hong Kong tops list as world’s favourite city for tourism

Despite decline in visitors from China, the city is still the most visited and striving to broaden its appeal. Also in top 5 most visited cities are Bangkok and Singapore

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 January, 2017, 6:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 10:34am

Hong Kong has been named the world’s most visited city, but will be stepping up its quality of travel experience to keep visitors engaged.

The city has held the top spot since 2012. Despite a 3.9 per cent decline in international travellers from 2014 to 2015, Hong Kong clinched the top spot in Euromonitor International’s annual survey, based on international arrivals.

While a total of 27.8 million overnight visitors in 2014, official figures from Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) reveal that the total dropped to 26.5 million in 2016.

Hong Kong’s shopping and dynamic restaurant scene continue to lure travellers across the border. Although there has been a drop, mainland China still drives tourist figures, accounting for about 77 per cent of arrivals.

“Hong Kong has historically been appealing to Chinese travellers, for its tax-free shopping and access to branded products,” says Euromonitor travel analyst Wouter Geert. “Hong Kong is also a major gateway in terms of flights, with many Chinese starting their international trips there.”

He adds that Hong Kong’s heavy reliance on the China market could see it struggle to retain its title into the future if action is not taken.

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As disposable income in China increases and more young Chinese set their sights on adventures further afield, the market is drifting away from Hong Kong. Last year, visitors from China decreased by 6.7 per cent.

“Relations between Hong Kong and China have become strenuous, which has resulted in declining Chinese arrivals to Hong Kong,” says Geert . “Hong Kong will need to see whether it can continue to attract visitors with shopping as its most important attraction.”

Noting a shift in trend towards experiential travel and in a bid to attract more independent travellers who splash the cash, Hong Kong’s tourism board has thrown the spotlight on a range of unique experiences the city has to offer. These include food tourism, nightlife, culture and arts, hipster hubs, fashion scenes and outdoor activities.

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The aim is to attract thriving markets such as South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand, which all hit a record high in 2016.

Hong Kong’s loss appears to be Thailand and Japan’s gain. Thai capital, Bangkok, secured the second spot, with 18.7 million travellers visiting in 2015 – a 10 per cent jump. Although ranked 51, the northern city of Chiang Mai’s arrivals grew by 40 per cent, putting it on Geert’s to-watch list. “Chiang Mai is especially popular between December and February, when the climate is cool and plants are in bloom,” he adds.

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Thailand’s largest island Phuket and the beach destination of Pattaya, which sits a two-hour drive from the capital, also made it into the top 20. Koh Samui and Krabi lands at 91 and 93 respectively.

Tokyo jumped six places to 17 after witnessing a staggering 35.4 per cent rise in tourists in 2015. Osaka and Kyoto rose to 27 and 11 respectively, both benefiting from the increasingly popular ‘Golden Route,’ which leads from Tokyo to Kyoto and Osaka via Mount Fuji.

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London, Singapore and Paris hang on to top three to five.

Euromonitor research predicts mainland China will attract the most travellers from Hong Kong this year. Macau will comes in second, with Japan, Taiwan and Thailand following.