60,000 visitors from mainland China enter Hong Kong on high-speed rail as MTR Corp chairman Fred Ma predicts people will soon complain station is too small
National Day brings Chinese tourists to city on Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, but weak yuan means shopping is not top of their list of things to do
Mainland tourists entered Hong Kong on China’s National Day holiday on Monday, with more than 60,000 expected to get to the city using the new cross-border high-speed rail service.
But shopping is not among many visitors’ top priorities this year as the Chinese yuan has weakened 8.8 per cent against the Hong Kong dollar since April, when the US-China trade war escalated. This has lessened their desire to spend big in the tax-free city.
On Monday morning, tourists from across the border poured into the arrival concourse on the B2 level of the West Kowloon station, as the “golden week” holiday began.
Queues of people – mainly families with children – snaked around the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort’s customer service centre, and a currency exchange shop on the same level.
Frederick Ma Si-hang, the MTR Corporation chairman, said more than 80 trains were in service on Monday, and ones to Hong Kong were nearly full, with more than 60,000 people expected to arrive in the city.
“Eight days after [the rail] opened, today should be a peak period,” he said. “My worry, is not having not enough passengers [in the long term]. My worry, is people will say this terminus is too small after seven or 10 years.”
Ma said low passenger turnout on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link was not a concern, because it would take time for people to get used to the new line, and travel agencies were just starting to launch promotions about the railway.
For the first five days of its launch on September 23, the 26km Hong Kong section of the rail link failed to meet the government’s “conservative” daily estimate of 80,000 passengers.
Mainland university student Trumy Guo, who took the new express train from Guangzhou to West Kowloon, said the ride was “super comfortable”, but the ticket price could have been cheaper.
A second-class seat from Guangzhou South to Hong Kong cost HK$247, and the journey took about one hour.
The 22-year-old was on her way to Sai Kung for a boat trip with friends, and said “eat and play” topped the group’s to-do list in Hong Kong, rather than shopping. She said buying goods at outlet malls in Guangzhou was sometimes cheaper than in Hong Kong.
“[Those in] cities in northeast China may have a stronger shopping desire, but to people in Guangzhou, the shopping advantages we enjoy in Hong Kong are not that big,” she said.
A yuan is equivalent to HK$1.14 now, compared with HK$1.25 in April.
Kuo’s friend, Eva Lam, also 22, echoed the remarks, but said she would still buy cosmetic and skincare products, as well as clothes, in the city.
“For the same brand, there are more products offered in Hong Kong [than the mainland],” said the student, who visits the city about six times a year.
Another high-speed train passenger, Cai Meili, who was on her first visit to Hong Kong, said she would only spend about 2,000 yuan in the city during her two-day stay.
“The exchange rate of the Hong Kong dollar against the yuan was too high,” the 22-year-old student said.
But Gilly Zhong Shaoling, a Shenzhen resident, said the yuan depreciation would only have limited impact on her spending budget, because she would need to buy things when necessary.
The 38-year-old teacher planned to spend HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 in the city on goods such as clothes and baby milk formula.
“Hong Kong’s quality check on products is more serious. I trust it more,” she said.
On Haiphong Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, a branch of one of the city’s major pharmacy chains, Mannings, was crowded with mainland visitors who were buying medicine and health care products.
Wu Jie-ming, 17, a clerk from Guangdong province, said she would spend between 1,000 yuan and 2,000 yuan during her first visit to Hong Kong, mainly on skincare products.
On the same street, the owner of Lung Shing Pharmacy, a man surnamed Leung, said he felt his shop had seen a 30 per cent increase in customers compared with the past two days.
“But I couldn’t tell whether the business today had been boosted. It seemed the shop was more crowded,” he said.
He added cosmetic products were most popular among shoppers.
But, a woman surnamed Wong, owner of the nearby Golden Lake Restaurant, said she had 30 per cent fewer customers when compared with last year’s golden week.
“The shop used to be very full during holidays,” she said.
The golden week national holiday started in mainland China in 2000 as a way to boost domestic tourism, and people’s standard of living.
A majority of mainland tourists now make use of the individual visit scheme, which allows residents of Guangdong province, as well as those of another 28 major Chinese cities, to visit Hong Kong without having to sign up for a package tour.
Three in every four visitors to Hong Kong are from the mainland.
On Sunday, a member of the pro-democracy NeoDemocrats party, Roy Tam Hoi-pong, launched a campaign in Tuen Mun to “persuade” mainland visitors not to shop there, but instead to visit major shopping centres in Shenzhen, as there were so many mainland shoppers that the daily lives of local residents were disrupted.
For the first eight months this year, Hong Kong recorded nearly 33 million mainland visitors, up 13.8 per cent from the same period last year.
The golden week holiday last year, which spanned eight days as it coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival, drew more than 1.27 million mainland visitors to Hong Kong.