Popularity of Zhuhai bridge trips highlights gap between Hong Kong and mainland tourists
Mainland visitors sign up in droves to see ‘super attraction’ from a distance while Hongkongers are indifferent to it
With the cross-border bridge linking Hong Kong with Macau and Zhuhai set to open for traffic this year, some mainland-based tour operators have stolen a march by offering packages for travellers to see the infrastructure from afar.
But there was a stark contrast on either side of the border in the popularity of the tours – given a warm welcome by those in the north and the cold shoulder in Hong Kong.
Over the last two months of 2017, Hong Kong-based China Travel Service (CTS) organised just 10 groups to join a hot springs tour which included a distant sea view of the bridge, according to Yiu Si-wing, the agency’s deputy chairman and lawmaker for the tourism sector.
But in December alone, Guangzhou-based agency Guangzhilv had 882 visitors sign up for tours that included boat trips to view the bridge. During the three-day new year public holiday, another 136 people joined the tours, according to agency spokeswoman Kuang Xindi.
Major construction on the Y-shaped, 55km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was declared complete at the end of 2017 but it has not yet opened for traffic. Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in December that the central government would decide the opening date, which would be some time in 2018. The opening had been delayed from 2016 with costs overrunning.
The multibillion-dollar bridge will be the first highway linking Hong Kong with the western part of the Pearl River Delta so it is considered a vital traffic link for the “Greater Bay Area”, a scheme to make nine Guangdong cities on the delta and the two special administrative regions into an integrated economic and business hub.
Upon completion of construction, tourism authorities of the 11 cities in the area founded an industry alliance, vowing to explore the sharing of resources.
However ambitious the tour designers were, market reactions to the packages highlighting a distant view of the bridge from the sea were distinctly different on the mainland and Hong Kong.
“The route we rolled out in November got a tepid reaction and was closed as 2017 ended,” Yiu said.
According to the itinerary, visitors departed from Hong Kong for a hot springs resort in Gudou, a town about 90 minutes’ drive from Zhuhai. They took a boat trip on Zhuhai waters to view the bridge before returning to Hong Kong.
On ordinary days, the price was HK$299 per person and during the festive period HK$399, including the boat trip which cost about HK$50 to HK$60 per person.
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Of the 10 groups, which had a total of 300 visitors, seven were reserved by institutional clients while only three were made up of individual travellers, Yiu said.
Kuang of Guangzhilv said its two routes – one included a boat trip from Zhuhai and the other was from Tai O in Lantau Island to view the bridge – were welcomed by mainland visitors. Most were citizens aged between 55 and 65 and families, according to Kuang.
“We consider the bridge not only a ‘super construction’ but also a ‘super attraction’ because our clients are curious about it and viewing it from the sea is more panoramic and exciting,” Kuang said.
Hongkongers had a different take, according to Yiu.
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“Mainland visitors are interested to see a bridge that has been named a ‘millennium achievement’ and a ‘world-class project’ by media, whereas Hongkongers are not so keen and many might think that they can see it any time if they wish after the bridge is commissioned,” he said.
Construction still going on on the Hong Kong sector of the bridge also added to the difficulties in arranging local boat trips. “We have to make sure that the waters are safe enough and the quotations from the ship operators are acceptable,” Yiu said.
Both agencies said that the bridge could only be an additional attraction to some existing tour routes and more new packages would be developed after it was opened for traffic.
“We can’t make the bridge a major spot. We can only feature it on our way to something else, such as to a resort, a seafood feast or an island,” Yiu said.
Kuang echoed that, saying packages featuring the bridge only would be less “cost-efficient” from the consumers’ perspective.
Yiu said CTS would start to introduce “improved” packages as early as February.
The first new package would be a two-day trip to Zhuhai. Visitors would sail on the city’s waters to view the bridge and enjoy some free time in Macau before returning to Hong Kong according to their own schedule, Yiu said.
Two new packages being planned included one to view the bridge during a ride on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car – one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions – and the other during a sail from Tung Chung to Tai O, both on Lantau Island facing the Pearl River estuary.
Kuang said after the bridge was commissioned Guangzhilv would take advantage of the convenient transport and design quick tours around the three cities connected by the bridge.
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