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High-speed rail set to bring bumper ‘Golden Week’ for Hong Kong tourism as mainland Chinese visitors snap up tickets for first day

Trains to the city from many destinations across the border have already sold out for the first day of National Day holiday on October 1, but some remain if bought in Hong Kong or from local platforms

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 3:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 11:32pm

Hong Kong is gearing up for a surge in the number of mainland Chinese visitors after the high-speed rail link finally opens next weekend, with tickets to the city sold in many destinations across the border already all gone for the first day of China’s National Day holiday on October 1.

Travellers were predicted to pour in via the rail link on the first day of “Golden Week”, and the local tourism industry was forecasting a bumper period for local businesses.

Visitors wanting to travel to the West Kowloon terminal from Beijing, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Hangzhou or Xiamen on October 1 could no longer get a ticket from China Railway Corporation’s official platform by Saturday.

But some tickets from these destinations were still available on Hong Kong’s online platform.

Local lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who represents the tourism sector in the city’s legislature, estimated hotel incomes would surge by more than 10 per cent and occupancy rates would rise 5 or 6 per cent during the seven-day break, when most mainlanders are on holiday.

But he said it was hard to predict the number of visitors to Hong Kong. Chinese holidaymakers were increasingly travelling overseas during Golden Week, Yiu said, and the cost and availability of flights abroad would influence the city’s fortunes.

A passenger’s guide to the high-speed cross-border rail link

“If flights overseas are full and expensive, then people will choose Hong Kong,” he said.

The express rail line would bring more people from second and third-tier cities in Chinese provinces such as Jiangxi and Hunan, Yiu said, if higher-end tours were organised for them. This was because flights from these places were relatively expensive and sparse.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board meanwhile has been eyeing business opportunities. A spokeswoman said it had been working with key travel agencies in 10 cities along the rail route, including Guiyang in Guizhou province, Wuhan in Hubei, and Changsha in Hunan. It had also been working with cruise companies to offer combined train and ship packages for tourists from central and western China.

In Hong Kong, local travel agents have been vying for customers looking to use the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong line on its debut day, September 23.

Small shops face uncertain future near high-speed rail terminus

China Travel Service was on Thursday advertising various tour packages for the opening day priced at between HK$799 (US$100) and HK$3,499.

Rivals Hong Thai Travel Services and Wing On Travel, two of the city’s largest agencies, rolled out three-day tours to Chaoshan in Guangdong province, a destination about three hours away by high-speed rail.

Hong Thai director Jason Wong Chun-tat believed there was great demand for rail tours and said the firm was eyeing packages to cities under five hours away, including Guilin in Guangxi.

Wong anticipated double-digit growth for his company in organising trips to these destinations.

With the high-speed rail, transport capacity can be raised
Jason Wong Chun-tat, Hong Thai Travel Services

“With the high-speed rail, transport capacity can be raised,” he said.

For Hongkongers, short-haul destinations within three or four hours would be the biggest draw, Yiu said, which could be reached for a long weekend.

But Johnny So Tsz-yeung, general manager of Sunflower Travel, said the firm was waiting to gauge the impact of the rail line before organising tours as its attractiveness might be limited.

Guangzhou South station was not close to the city centre, he said, and trains to Guilin and Chaozhou were not frequent.

The real-time ticketing system and luggage requirements made it difficult for agencies to arrange tours, he added. All bags must have combined dimensions (length, height and width) of no more than 130cm.

Technical glitch, or are you on China’s blacklist for high-speed rail tickets?

On Friday, Adi Lau Tin-shing, operations director for Hong Kong’s railway operator, the MTR Corporation, revealed that about 15,000 tickets had been sold in Hong Kong as of Thursday, with Guangzhou South the most popular destination, followed by Chaoshan, Xiamen and Fuzhou in Fujian province.

Tickets are available at West Kowloon station, online and via telephone, as well as through 17 local travel agencies.

Additional reporting by Cannix Yau