The number of mainland tourists who visited Hong Kong during the Tuen Ng festival period fell this year for the first time in three years, according to the commerce minister.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung said yesterday there had been a 2.5 per cent drop in the number of mainland visitors for the three-day festival, which took place this year from May 31 to June 2.
The drop reverses a recent trend that has seen the number of mainland tourists during the festival increase by at least 20 per cent every year since 2011.
So's announcement came after the Immigration Department noticed a drop this year of 1.7 per cent in the number of mainland tourists to the three-day Labour Day holiday in May.
So, who was speaking at a luncheon, did not clarify how many tourists the percentage figure represented.
Travel Industry Council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng said there had been no notable change in overall tourist numbers during the Tuen Ng festival, as the drop in mainland visitors had been offset by an increase in international tourists.
A more accurate assessment of tourism trends would need to take account of the whole summer period, he said.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced at the end of last month that he would "seek opinions" on controlling tourist numbers.
He urged the public to go beyond a simple discussion of whether or not there should be a curb, and to discuss the extent or method of any such reduction.
"The first question we should ask is: how much of a reduction in tourist numbers can the local economy bear?" he said.
Before making policies to control tourist numbers, it was necessary to analyse the types of visitors and the economic benefits they brought, Leung said.
Among the 40 million mainland visitors to Hong Kong last year, 42 per cent stayed overnight and spent HK$8,937 per person. Same-day visitors spent HK$2,721.
Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong was against introducing controls on tourist numbers. Doing so would not offer a long-term solution to the city's overcrowding problem, he said.
However, he added that the city needed "balanced development", asking: "Is it healthy for 80 per cent of shops on the street to be jewellery chains?"