Tourist arrivals this year far exceeded the Tourism Board's predictions, hitting 46 million by the middle of last month, thanks to a 24 per cent increase in mainland visitors, the board said yesterday.
From January to mid-December, the number of visitors rose 16 per cent over the same period last year, board chairman James Tien Pei-chun told a radio programme. In all of 2011, 42 million arrivals were recorded.
The 16 per cent increase was almost triple the board's prediction of 5.5 per cent.
Its conservative estimate was based on the World Tourism Organisation's grim outlook of growth of between 3 per cent and 4 per cent due to global financial instability.
Even that prediction proved optimistic for visitors from outside China. Short-haul arrivals from within the region fell by less than 1 per cent, compared with a projected growth rate of 3.1 per cent. From the rest of the world, visitor numbers also fell by less than 1 per cent.
Mainland visitors increased 24 per cent to reach 33 million by mid-December, Tien said, when 7.6 per cent growth had been expected.
"About half [of the mainlanders] are same-day visitors," he said. "Parallel traders could be included." He made a personal estimate that parallel traders, who made several trips per day, accounted for as many as one million of the mainland arrivals.
To combat parallel trading, Tien said he proposed to the government in August that holders of multiple-entry permits should be restricted to one return trip per day between Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
The suggestion was not accepted, but now mainland authorities were considering similar measures, he said.
As for this year, Tien said he expected continued growth from mainland China but not from Europe or the United States.