Most of the mainland visitors travelling to Hong Kong on high-speed trains in the first two years of the rail service's operation are likely to be making their first trip to the city, tourism trade observers say.
Given that first-time mainland travellers generally tend to spend more and stay longer in the city than the typical tourist or repeat visitors, shops, restaurants and hotels can expect a business boost as the mainland fulfils its high-speed rail link ambitions.
Mainlanders are already among the top spenders among visitors to Hong Kong, parting with an average of HK$5,676 each last year, compared with HK$5,439 overall for overnight visitors, HK$2,138 each for same-day visitors and HK$1,498 for all visitors, according to Hong Kong Tourism Board data.
But Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king believes the real figure is higher at between HK$5,000 and HK$8,000 or much more.
The tourism boost could lead to a double-digit percentage increase in the number of mainland visitors arriving once high-speed trains connected less accessible regions of the country to the city, Michael Wu Siu-ieng, the chairman of the Hong Kong Travel Industry Council, said. Almost 16.9 million mainlanders visited Hong Kong last year.
The trains, which travel at more than 300km/h, run between Wuhan and Guangzhou and between Tianjin and Beijing.
The mainland plans to overhaul its railway system with high-speed lines by 2012. Hong Kong will link with the mainland network if the Legislative Council backs a controversial government plan to operate high-speed trains to Guangzhou by 2015 at a cost of about HK$67 billion.
Lawmakers will discuss the project's financing on Friday.
Like the construction industry, which stands to benefit from the creation of thousands of jobs, the tourism trade is keen to see the project go ahead as soon as possible despite arguments by some academics and politicians that the city's first high-speed train service would come at too high a social cost. Many New Territories villagers would need to be relocated to accommodate the rail line.
Michael Li Hon-sing, the executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said that over the longer term, connecting to the mainland's high-speed railway network would reap economic benefits for Hong Kong.
Relatively fast travel and check-in times would foster tourism and business as high-speed trains made it easier and more convenient for people to do business with the mainland, where many factories and manufacturers are located.
Meanwhile, more than 100 people - including Tai Kok Tsui residents and Tsoi Yuen villagers - marched yesterday in protest against the high-speed rail project.
Chanting slogans and waving banners, they marched from a park in Tai Kok Tsui to the shopping precinct in Mong Kok, passing through some of the areas that would be affected by the project.
The protesters urged legislators to veto the funding request when it is put to a vote on Friday.
The spokesman for the protest organisers said: 'We shall fight to the end to protect our homes. We want to make it very clear. The government cannot destroy people's homes just because their homes are on the land it wants to take.'