The number of Japanese tourists coming to Hong Kong dropped for the second consecutive month in October, with industry executives blaming the dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over sovereignty of a group of islands.
Arrivals fell by 24 per cent compared with a year ago, to 79,840. That followed a 9 per cent decline in September, Tourism Board figures released yesterday show.
The government has been trying to broaden the tourism base, to avoid an over-reliance on mainlanders, who accounted for 67 per cent of all arrivals last year.
Last month Japan fell from third to fourth place in the ranking of tourist source markets, excluding the mainland, trailing the United States, Taiwan and South Korea.
"Hong Kong is part of China and the perception among the Japanese people is not to differentiate between them," said Masaki Hirata, executive director of the Hong Kong office of the Japan National Tourism Organisation. "They fear a negative atmosphere and possible violence."
Hirata noted, however, that recent tensions over the disputed ownership of the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, had not deterred Hong Kong people from visiting Japan. "Hong Kong people are not [overly] political," he said.
In September the Japanese government agreed to buy three islets in the chain from a private citizen. The move sparked violent protests in various cities on the mainland, with Japanese- branded cars overturned by mobs and Japanese-owned business targeted by vandals. In the same month a Japanese couple were attacked in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Protests in Hong Kong were overwhelmingly peaceful.
A Tourism Board representative said short-term visitor arrival figures were not a good reference point for assessing the broader health of the market, and a number of factors drove the fluctuation.
In the first 10 months of the year, the number of Japanese tourists grew by 3.9 per cent against the same period last year.
Hong Kong recorded a 12 per cent year-on-year increase in total arrivals in October, hitting 4.2 million, with growth largely fuelled by the mainland and Russian markets.