“Hong Kong’s tourism industry has withstood the effects of economic uncertainty, wars and terrorism in the past,” stated the Tourism Board’s Year in Review 2003-04 report. “But it is doubtful that any event has affected the industry so critically as the battle against Sars.” Until now, perhaps. The year 2019 has been a similarly tough one for the travel sector, as six months of protests have dented the city’s appeal. Arrivals for October plunged 43.7 per cent from the same month in 2018 , closing in on rates not seen since the threat from severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) peaked in May 2003, with the current slump led by an almost 50 per cent decline in mainland Chinese tourists. The outlook is not expected to improve in the foreseeable future, either. Appearing on CNBC on December 3, Martin Rasmussen, China economist at Capital Economics, said: “It’s a bit hard to know what will happen this month, but in terms of mainland Chinese visitors […] we don’t think that they will feel welcome in the city again any time soon, especially given the big step up [in coverage] in the state media on the mainland regarding the Hong Kong situation. We think that it’ll take quite a while for mainland Chinese visitors to return.” And will they be welcome when they do? Have mainland Chinese tourists, easily the city’s largest source market, ever really been welcome in Hong Kong? When international exploration first became an option for travellers from the Middle Kingdom, in the 1990s , the territory was an early beneficiary thanks to its proximity, both geographically and culturally, to the mainland. When total arrivals dropped to a record low of 427,254 in the midst of the Sars crisis, the Hong Kong Tourism Board established a “recovery task force” and launched an aggressive campaign to entice visitors back to the city. “Chinese were considered especially likely to make early return visits to Hong Kong,” noted the organisation’s yearly report. Within a year of its implementation, in July 2003, the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) offered some 158 million citizens living in cities in Guangdong province, Beijing, Shanghai and nine other major metropolises the opportunity to holiday in Hong Kong independently. Before the scheme, only group or business travel had been possible and solo sightseers took advantage of the new-found flexibility. “The scheme’s long-term implications are underlined by the fact that IVS accounted for 3.64 million visitors in the first nine months of 2004, 33% of all mainland arrivals,” stated the Tourism Board. As arrivals streamed across the border in ever larger numbers – 51 million in 2018 – so too did the financial advantages. Tourism is a pillar of Hong Kong’s economy, as people who benefit from it are currently painfully aware, and more mainland visitors meant more income – a fact embraced by business types but less so by regular residents, among whom a distinctly xenophobic distaste for their northern neighbours was developing. According to a 2015 report titled Growth of Chinese Tourists to Hong Kong, China, 2002 to 2014 – Implications and Way Forward and published by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), “Despite over ten years of significant growth many local residents of Hong Kong, China, still continue to find fault with Chinese tourists, leading to friction between members of the local community and Chinese tourists.” In 2012, Apple Daily ran a crowd-funded advertisement against mainland “locusts” , while a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that only 28 per cent of Hongkongers viewed those from the Middle Kingdom in a positive light. The past decade saw anti-mainland Chinese protests become a feature long before those that have racked Hong Kong this year – it turns out, physical proximity is not enough to ensure cultural closeness, after all. A South China Morning Post article from April posed the question: “ what if mainland Chinese tourists stop coming? ” The article suggested a few ways of making Hong Kong more attractive to visitors from other countries but nothing appeared to offer the potential to compensate for the loss of such a large market. As the city is forced to deal with the economic loss, it must face the fact that it was overdependent on cross-border visitors and, not for the first time, turned a blind eye to public opinion. The tourist yuan was always welcome in the territory, but not so those who spent it. South Korea to ban tourists from getting driving licences Holidays built around a practical purpose are nothing new, but even among those who travel for dental or cosmetic surgery, driving-licence tourism is seen as niche. However, aspiring motorists, most of them from China, have been flocking to South Korea’s Driver’s Licence Examination Centres to take advantage of a cost-effective way to get behind the wheel. Last year, the BBC reported, an average of 62 Chinese nationals a week were passing their test on Jeju Island as part of tour packages designed around learning to drive. But not for much longer. “Short-term foreign visitors will soon be barred from applying for a South Korean driver’s licence,” reported Yonhap News Agency on December 9. According to Yonhap, an increase in accidents in Europe involving Chinese motorists with licences issued in South Korea had prompted the change in legislation. North Korea opens mountain spa and ski resort Meanwhile, over the border in North Korea, Kim Jong-un continues to push the nation’s burgeoning tourism industry , with the opening of the Yangdok Hot Spring Cultural Recreation Centre, a mountain spa and ski resort to the east of Pyongyang. Reporting on the opening, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said: “Thanks to the steadfast idea of the Workers’ Party of Korea of believing in the people as in Heaven and its energetic leadership, the remote mountainous area in Yangdok, which remained intact for thousands of years, has turned into a splendid hot spring cultural recreation centre.” Translated, that means there are ski slopes, a park for horse riding, hot springs and some single- and multi-storey chalets – and none of them would have existed had it not been for Kim’s “outstanding leadership”.