Tourist numbers dip 4.5 per cent for 2016 in biggest fall since Sars hit Hong Kong in 2003

Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam warns of uncertain year ahead amid weakening yuan, sluggish global economy and fluctuations in major currencies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 10:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 11:23pm

Visitor numbers to Hong Kong slumped 4.5 per cent last year, the worst figures since 2003 when the city was struck by the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

The decline widened from a 2.5 per cent fall in 2015.

Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok blamed travel restrictions imposed on Shenzhen residents and warned of an “uncertain” Year of the Rooster, citing the weakening yuan, a sluggish global economy and fluctuations in major currencies.

December tourism numbers up as Ocean Park offers ticket discounts to Hong Kong residents to boost attendance

“[The weak number] was mainly due to the sharp decline of same-day visitors from the mainland,” Lam told a press conference highlighting the Lunar New Year parade to be held on January 28.

In April 2015, Beijing limited Shenzhen permanent residents to just one visit per week, a move aimed at reining in parallel trading activities.

The move reduced the number of visitors holding multiple-entry visas or those allowing just one entry a week by 36.7 per cent in the first half of last year.

According to the latest official statistics, mainland visitor arrivals fell 7.8 per cent in the first 11 months of the year, while overseas visitors went up 3 per cent.

Lam expected 2017 to be another challenging year, as the strong currency which is pegged to the US dollar had made the city’s products more expensive to overseas travellers, especially those from the mainland.

But tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing was more optimistic, saying he expected growth based on the upbeat visitor figure for December, which reversed the downward trend with 5.4 per cent overall growth on a yearly basis.

“This year looks more positive than last year,” Yiu said, as the negative impact from the mainland visa policy eases and anti-mainland sentiment levels off.

Hong Kong tourist numbers up, but no cash bonanza for retailers as Chinese visitors spend less and leave sooner

He expected the recovery in visitor numbers to continue, predicting 3 to 5 per cent growth for the full year.

Yiu said the depreciation of the yuan posed the biggest risk, as two-thirds of the city’s visitors were from the mainland.

He also highlighted fiercer competition from other destinations, many of which were offering preferential visa treatment to mainland citizens.

Meanwhile, the annual Lunar New Year night parade – which will kick off in the tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui at 8pm on January 28 – will be scaled up this year to mark the special administrative region’s 20th anniversary.

The annual parade, which will cost an estimated HK$33 million, is expected to feature 10 floats and 26 performance groups, including two top teams from the Drum Corps International World Championships held in the US state of Indiana last year.

Some 13,000 “lucky packs ” – which will contain drinks, food and small gifts – will be distributed to spectators that day.

Mason Hung, general manager in the Tourism Board’s event and product development division, estimated that about 150,000 people would take part in the event, with half of them being tourists.