Tourism industry is not expected to recover until next year The number of visitors arriving in Hong Kong fell to its lowest level for more than 12 years in April as the Sars outbreak took a devastating toll on travel and tourism-related industries. The numbers plunged to 493,666 - down 64.8 per cent from April last year, when 1.4 million visitors arrived in the city, according to figures released by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The number of arrivals is the lowest since February 1991 when the Gulf war was deterring visitors. 'All the current indications are that the May downturn will be even more marked than that of April,'' said the board's executive director, Clara Chong Ming-wah. Arrivals from the mainland were among those affected, falling by 38.7 per cent in April. While welcoming the World Health Organisation's decision to lift the travel advisory against Hong Kong last Friday, Ms Chong said it could be several months before arrivals started to pick up. Citibank senior economist Joe Lo expects visitor arrivals to drop by 27 per cent this year. He said Hong Kong tourism would not fully recover until the first quarter of next year. The tourism board said 44.7 per cent of visitors in April did not stay overnight, compared with 37.1 per cent for the same month last year. Arrivals from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore declined by more than 90 per cent last month. The average hotel occupancy rate stood at 22 per cent in April, down from 87 per cent a year ago. Hotels in Tsim Sha Tsui recorded the worst performance, with 15 per cent occupancy rates, while those in Central recorded 16 per cent. Despite the severely depressed April figures, the total number of arrivals for the first four months of the year only dropped 4 per cent to 4.79 million from the figure a year ago. Arrivals from the mainland grew by 28 per cent from January to April with 2.45 million visitors. Meanwhile, the government will announce results for first-quarter gross domestic product growth today. Daniel Chan, an economist at DBS Hong Kong Bank, said he expects the economy to grow about 4 per cent in the first quarter, compared with 5 per cent in the final quarter of 2002. 'Basically, it is due to very strong export growth, which means merchandise exports and also exports of services,' said Mr Chan. Dragonair sought to restore people's confidence in air travel by holding a lunch on board one of its aircraft during a 90-minute flight which took off and landed at Chek Lap Kok yesterday. Fifty guests, including the Secretary for Economic Development Stephen Ip Shu-kwan and Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Henry Tang Ying-yen were on board.