Political rancour and handover events boost Hong Kong’s ‘golden week’ visitor numbers
Mainland visitor numbers – so key to the city’s tourism performance – up on last year’s festive period, but some younger visitors may not stay long
More mainlanders are spending their National Day holidays in Hong Kong this year, fuelled by recent political tension between Beijing and neighbouring countries, and celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover to China.
But that does not mean they are staying long. Some younger tourists plan to fly elsewhere, to places like Taiwan and Southeast Asia, after just a day or two in the city.
Rather than shopping and visiting renowned attractions, some millennial travellers say they would rather spend their time on the city’s outlying islands, or in its country parks.
This year mainlanders have an extended eight-day break starting from Sunday, as the National Day public holiday coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival. The period is known as “golden week”.
“We saw a big improvement [in hotel bookings] from last year,” Michael Li Hong-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said.
City hotels’ overall occupancy for the first four days of the holiday reached more than 90 per cent, having hovered around 80 per cent for recent holidays.
And room rates are up about three to five per cent from last year, Li said.
Li attributed the improved performance to recent political tensions between China and countries popular with Chinese tourists, like Japan and South Korea.
Since this month, the Chinese government has curbed the number of tours to Japan, according to Japanese media, after a flare-up in long-running Sino-Japanese tensions.
And it banned South Korean package tours earlier this year, in retaliation for Seoul’s decision to deploy an American anti-missile system on the Korean peninsula.
As a result, the number of flights booked from China to South Korea for the holiday period dropped 28.3 per cent from last year to 133,000, according to data collected by China TravelSky Holding, a state-owned information provider for the tourism industry.
And those countries’ losses appears to have been Hong Kong’s gain, with the number of mainland tour groups to Hong Kong also doubling from last year’s figure, according to the city’s Travel Industry Council.
“The overall social atmosphere this year is much better, with a lot of handover celebrations going on in Hong Kong,” Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director at the council, said, referring to the festivities marking 20 years since the city was handed from British rule to Chinese.
And while Hong Kong is traditionally known to mainlanders for tax-free shopping, some younger travellers seem more interested in exploring the city’s hidden gems in the countryside.
On Sunday morning, there was a long queue at the bus stop in Shau Kei Wan, on Hong Kong Island, where people waited for a ride to the well-known Dragon’s Back hiking trial, and Shek O Beach. Some mainland tourists were among them.
“I heard Shek O is beautiful ... The downtown area is too crowded today anyway,” Evely Wu, from Beijing, said. Wu said she planned to stay in Hong Kong for two days before flying to Taiwan, where she would stay for six days.
“I don’t think I will buy many things in Hong Kong. They would be too heavy to carry since I still have other places to go,” she said.
Jane Jian, who works in Shenzhen, had a similar plan.
The 25-year-old IT worker said she planned to use her only day in Hong Kong for hiking and a visit to Shek O, before flying to Vietnam on Monday.
“It is good to see the other side of Hong Kong,” Jian said, adding it was very convenient to fly from the city to Southeast Asia.
Tourism employs about 7.2 per cent of Hong Kong’s workforce. The sector is heavily reliant on mainland tourists, who made up 76 per cent of total global visitors to the city last year.