Hong Kong needs to show what makes it unique to boost mainland visitor numbers, says Ctrip chief
Once the top destination for Chinese travellers, the city is now losing out to Southeast Asia and Europe, says Jane Sun
Hong Kong must trumpet what makes it unique, and find new ways of luring in mainland tourists, the boss of China’s largest travel booking website said, warning that they are increasingly choosing overseas countries instead.
As the mainland’s eight-day National Day holiday started on Sunday, Jane Sun of US-listed Ctrip said Hong Kong is no longer the No 1 destination for mainlanders. And to take back that crown, she said, the city needs to tell tourists what it is that only it can offer.
But it is not just Hong Kong that has work to do attracting tourists. The mainland has a similar task on its hands, Sun said.
Visitor numbers to mainland China grew at an average annual rate of only 1 per cent from 2005 to 2015. And Sun said China needs to simplify its visa applications and cultivate an English-friendly environment so foreigners will find it easier to get in and get around.
“When China opened its doors, Hong Kong was the No 1 travel destination because of its food and its culture. It is a shopping destination, so there are many things attracting people from the mainland,” Sun said.
But as Chinese get richer, Sun said more of them want to explore Southeast Asia and Europe.
“People like to explore. The city needs to ‘reinnovate’ every year,” she said. “Hong Kong is the financial centre. It has beautiful mountains ... we can promote fishing tours. We can promote something that is very unique, especially in this region. That will be a big uplift for Hong Kong.”
Another suggestion she has to boost tourism is to organise more large events, such as marathons.
“People can come here once or twice, or five times to 10 times. After that, they want to explore more. The city needs to think about what is new that we can offer. If every year we have a special promotion for customers who are from the mainland, depending on the holiday, I think that would attract more customers,” she said.
The number of Chinese tourists heading overseas has surged from about 10 million in 1999 to about 122 million in 2016. But Sun said the number of mainlanders using Ctrip to book holidays to Hong Kong has only been “slightly increasing over the years”.
Her company focuses on the domestic market, mainlanders visiting other mainland cities making up 80 per cent of its business.
Hong Kong’s tourism industry, which employs about 270,000 people, or 7.2 per cent of the city’s workforce, is heavily reliant on mainland tourists, who made up 76 per cent of total global visitors to the city last year.
But arrivals from north of the border dropped 6.7 per cent to 42.8 million last year, from 2015.
A report by China’s National Tourism Administration predicted mainlanders would make 710 million domestic and overseas trips during this year’s “super golden week”, which is a day longer than the usual October festive period as it coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival. They are expected to splash 590 billion yuan (HK$694 billion) during the public holiday.
About 21 per cent would visit Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, while 16.7 per cent would travel overseas, the report said.
Sun said simplifying Chinese visa applications, making the process quicker, could help bring in more foreigners.
“Also, a major travel destination needs to have an English-friendly environment. For example, road signs,” she said.
Sun, who used to work in the United States, said Americans who wanted to experience Asian culture would always choose Singapore because of its citizens’ grasp of English.