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Tourism

Hong Kong tourists more likely to opt for self-drive tours in Australia, but experts warn of risks

Visitors from city advised to hire newer cars and stay off roads at night, especially in rural areas

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 2:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 11:33pm

Hongkongers are being advised to take note of the risks of self-driving holidays in Australia as statistics show that a higher proportion of the city’s tourists opt to drive than other foreign visitors.

In a report published in 2015, Tasmania’s Department of State Growth found a quarter of all international visitors to Australia used a private car to get around.

But for Hongkongers, almost half of the 219,527 who visited Australia in the 12 months to March chose to drive.

That proportion has remained relatively steady over the years, while the total number of Hong Kong visitors to Australia surged from under 150,000 in 2008.

“Self-drive tours really let you decide what you want to do. It’s the kind of holiday most suitable for people who are spontaneous,” Carmen Ng, marketing executive at Country Holidays, said. “Driving overseas, especially in an exotic country, is an entirely different experience.

“You have an open road without traffic, in beautiful scenery, through dramatic landscapes and interesting little towns.”

However the difference in driving conditions is something that tourists should take note of, Jason Shum, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents, said.

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He cautioned tourists to hire newer cars in the exact make they were familiar with and stay off the road at night, especially in rural areas of Australia where there was often less street lighting than in Hong Kong.

Normal safety tips – such as taking note of challenging weather conditions, staying sober and getting enough sleep – also applied, he said.

Although road rules could differ between Hong Kong and Australia, GPS systems would often alert drivers to the different rules and speed limits, Shum added.

“There is really no excuse [for not knowing the rules],” he said.

Others note that the long distances in Australia, the emptiness of roads and the lack of places to refuel and buy food or water are things tourists planning to drive should be aware of.

Only a small number of Hong Kong tourists have run into trouble however. A family of four crashed near Byron Bay in New South Wales last week, and two women from the family, aged 64 and 46, died in the accident, local police said.

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In 2015, Hong Kong tourist Rachel Wong Pui-shan was sentenced to four years in jail for dangerous driving after a crash in Queensland in which two men were killed.

The 2015 report from Tasmania found that domestic and international tourists were involved in only 10 per cent of the serious crashes in the isolated island state.

“Road crashes are the most common cause of injury and death for international visitors in Australia,” the report said, noting that unfamiliar road rules, travel conditions or intersection designs could be among the challenges for tourists.

But it stated that it “would not be accurate to describe interstate and international drivers as a road safety problem”.

Royal Automobile Club of Queensland, an insurance company and motoring club, said foreign drivers made up only a small percentage of serious crashes in Australia.

“Local drivers making mistakes on local roads is by far the biggest road safety issue,” Steve Spalding, the club’s head of technical and safety policy, said.

Laws and regulations in Australia for overseas drivers vary from state to state, but in all states apart from Northern Territory, tourists are allowed to drive with their overseas licences without taking an extra test on local laws.

Shum noted the popularity of self-driving holidays among Hongkongers.

“They’re going deeper into the country, that’s why they’re deciding to drive,” he said. “They do not want to follow group tours any more. They want to have their own plans.”

Country Holidays’ Ng said the agency received about two inquiries a month regarding driving holidays, with almost half of them for Australia’s neighbour, New Zealand.

Other popular spots included Japan and Morocco, she said.