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Tourist numbers up 3 per cent in Hong Kong; No 2 official pledges to support sector

Latest figures show more arrivals from South Korea and Japan, as lawmaker calls on government to look beyond mainland China for growth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2017, 5:43pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2017, 5:54pm

Hong Kong’s No 2 official came bearing good news on Christmas Eve regarding tourist numbers and pledged the government would continue piling resources into developing the sector.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in a blog post on Sunday that the number of visits made to Hong Kong had reached 53 million for the year as of November – an increase of 3 per cent on the number seen in the first 11 months of last year.

“The number has grown for both mainland Chinese and non-mainland tourists,” Cheung said. “There was also very sizeable growth in the number of visits from the north Asian market, including Japan and South Korea.”

Cheung said the strong numbers had a positive impact on hotels and retailers in the city.

The average occupancy rate at Hong Kong hotels increased from 86 per cent to 89 per cent in the first 10 months of the year, he said, while the number of overnight visits grew by 5 per cent.

In the same period retail sales saw a 1.2 per cent increase compared to the same stretch of 2016.

Cheung said the government aimed to develop the city into a “world-class and first-choice tourism destination” through four development strategies. These were attracting tourists from a diverse range of markets, developing products and projects for the sector with both local and international characteristics, promoting “smart travelling”, and enhancing the quality of tourism services.

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The development of the “Greater Bay Area”, a grand plan to connect cities around southern China’s Pearl River Delta region into an integrated economic and business hub, would also boost tourism, he said, together with several major infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.

He also said the government planned to attract more international tourists to use Hong Kong as a transit point to other Asian locations.

But despite the grand plans, Yiu Si-wing, who represents the tourism sector in Hong Kong’s legislature, said the growth this year mainly came in the second half due to better weather.

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Mainland tourists had been encouraged to return due to a dying down of anti-mainland sentiment and an absence of reports about tourists being forced to shop, which had in previous years kept many away, he said.

Yiu added that there had been more budget flights from South Korea and Japan, and local hotels targeted these tourists with special offers in the first half of this year.

However, Gary Fan Kwok-wai, a localist lawmaker and member of the NeoDemocrats, said the government had been focusing too much on promoting the city among mainlanders, who often came only to shop rather than sightsee.

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This type of tourism had only led to streets becoming full of pharmacies and jewellery shops which locals seldom used, he said. The resulting rent hikes for commercial property had forced many local businesses out, he added.

Fan said the government should focus more on preserving the city’s unique old streets, culture and countryside scenery to attract genuine travellers from around the world.