Chinese tourists

Mainland Chinese tourist arrivals grow for first time in 13 months, Hong Kong Tourism Board says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 August, 2016, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 1:14pm

Mainland tourists are returning to Hong Kong, with arrivals showing an uptick last month for the first time in 13 months and officials upbeat that the turnaround will continue for the rest of the year.

The number of such visitors, who make up three-quarters of total visitor numbers, grew 2.2 per cent in July from a year earlier, and helped push the overall arrival figure back into positive territory for the first time since June last year, growing by 2.6 per cent, according to preliminary statistics.

“The July figures are healthier,” Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok said. “Barring any incidents and if the healthy trend persists, we are positive about the rest of the year.”

Hong Kong retail sales fall 8.4pc, dragged down by decline in tourism

He attributed the turnaround to a host of reasons, such as the easing of the negative impact of last year’s mainland policy change in Shenzhen restricting the use of multiple-entry permits and a levelling off of anti-mainlander sentiment.

Regarding the Shenzhen change, the figures for June, the latest available, showed the decline in this type of traveller narrowed to 32.7 per cent from 34.9 per cent in May and 37.2 per cent in April.

In the first half of the year, the decline in travellers with multiple-entry visas or one-entry-a-week visas shrank 36.7 per cent, contributing to a 10.6 per cent decrease to total mainland visitor numbers to the city.

Lam added that the recent strength of the yen made Japan less attractive and the terror threat had weakened travellers’ desire to venture to Europe for a summer holiday.

Average Hong Kong hotel room rates were also about 10 to 15 per cent lower in the past seven months, which made the city “more competitive,” Lam said.

Even though they might be returning, mainland tourists are spending less in the city, forking out an average of HK$7,105 per person in the first half of this year, a drop of 15.8 per cent over the same period last year.

This is way below the average HK$9,000 spent two years ago when mainland visitor numbers hit a record.

“The drop is a must,” Lam said. “It is a matter of how much. For example, hotels are already cheaper.”

The return of mainland visitors may be good news for retailers, hoteliers and tourism service operators struggling with shrinking receipts over the past couple of years.

Industry watchers warned, however, that the turnaround could also provoke anti-mainland sentiment, with residents complaining about visitors from across the border disrupting their daily lives and pushing up prices.

Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat said he would wait longer to see if the industry had bottomed out, as challenges persisted.

“It’s hard to tell [if it’s a recovery] based on one month’s figures,” Wong said.

Hong Kong’s status as a relatively safe destination had helped attract visitors, he said.

But the growing trend of mainland visitors preferring to spend their holidays further afield would not change, he said.

The Tourism Board kept its full year forecast for Hong Kong tourist arrivals at a decline of 1.8 per cent, an improvement from the 10.7 per cent fall last year.

William Cheng Kai-man, chairman of Magnificent Real Estate, which operates six hotels in the city, said he had yet to fully feel the effects of the improved outlook.

“We still suffered a decrease in revenue, about 4 per cent, but [it] was a lot better than the 20 per cent plus drop in 2014,” he said.

He suspected the July turnaround had disguised the reality as the figures included visitors in transit and same-day return travellers, who did not stay at hotels.

But Lam said things should continue to look up, as September and October would see several sporting events.

The Cyclothon, the inaugural Formula E race and the cross-harbour swim are on the calendar.

The board was also in discussions to introduce the Pokemon Go craze to the wine and dine fair in October, Lam said. “It will be fun.”