‘Golden week’: 1.2 million mainland visitors throng Hong Kong, but high-speed rail link still fails to live up to hype
Daily average of 77,000 rail commuters over the first five days of holiday stretch still below ‘conservative’ operating estimate of 80,100 by government
Hong Kong received a better-than-expected 1.2 million visitors from the mainland during the first five days of the “golden week” public holiday, filling hotel rooms and shop registers as some tourists took advantage of the recently opened high-speed rail link to make last-minute day trips.
But ridership numbers for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link failed to meet the government’s conservative estimate of 80,100 daily as the holiday drew to a close, which tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing blamed in part on complicated ticketing processes that deterred people and travel agencies.
On average, about 77,000 commuters took the cross-border link each day on October 1 and the subsequent four days, compared with 46,600 per day from its launch on September 23 to the end of the month, just before the break. On Friday, the number hit a high of 80,020.
Overall though, arrivals were up 28 per cent from the same period last year.
A daily average of more than 200,000 mainland visitors crossed over for the first five days of the seven-day break, which started on National Day on October 1. The mark was only maintained for the first three days of the holiday last year.
Yiu said visitor growth this golden week holiday surpassed his estimate of a 10 per cent rise.
He attributed this to more mainland tourists looking to spend just a day in the city, on top of those who were here for a more in-depth experience and others who found it easier to cross the border with the high-speed rail link.
Mainland Chinese visitors accounted for more than 70 per cent of the total number of travellers passing through the West Kowloon Terminus on October 1, while over the next four days, this proportion surged to more than 80 per cent.
The MTR Corporation, the city’s rail giant running the HK$84.4 billion (US$10.7 billion) local section of the line, revealed there would be at least 83 daily return trips between Hong Kong and mainland destinations from September 28 to October 7 after discussions with the mainland’s rail operator.
On the rail link’s underperformance, Yiu pointed to concerns raised by travel agencies.
“In the early stages, sentiment for using the rail link may not be high as there were many problems raised,” he said, citing complicated ticketing processes that threw off tourists and travel agencies.
The city’s hotels performed better with the outlook remaining rosy.
Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said most hotels in the city were more than 90 per cent full on average from Tuesday to Friday, with some reaching 100 per cent occupancy. Most of these were three- to four-star establishments, he added.
The surge in bookings came “last minute”, Li said, as hotels were only about 60 to 70 per cent full the week before. He attributed the late pickup to the availability of the high-speed rail.
The healthy numbers came despite a rise in hotel prices of about 5 to 8 per cent on average this year, he added. For example, a one-night stay in a three-star hotel in the city could cost more than HK$1,000.
It was more of a mixed picture for retailers, with lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who represents the retail and wholesale sector, expecting more modest growth this year because last year’s break coincided with the mid-Autumn Festival and spanned eight days.
About 1.38 million mainland visitors in total came into the city during last year’s golden week.
A weaker yuan against the Hong Kong dollar also dampened demand across all sectors, according to Shiu. One yuan now pegs to HK$1.14, compared with HK$1.25 in April, a drop of 8.8 per cent.
Shiu said he expected cosmetic and jewellery sellers could post a rise in sales of about 9 to 10 per cent.
In Causeway Bay, a shopping hub popular with mainland tourists, Moses Lin, 50, owner of Wing Lee Dispensary, which also sells cosmetics, said his business jumped more than 10 per cent over the past week, thanks mostly to sales of such items.
Another shop in the area, Be You Cosmetic, however said its business dropped more than 20 per cent in this period.
Hong Kong businesses near the Shenzhen border were among those benefitting from the holiday, as restaurant Lan Hang Kitchen in San Tin saw its revenue increase over the golden week period.
The restaurant, located in The Boxes, a quiet mall that has not seen much business since its opening in February, only earned about HK$100 in revenue daily, but that rose to HK$1,000 in the holiday period.
A woman surnamed Liu, the mother of the outlet’s owner, said about 10 tourist coaches visited the area on Saturday. Liu said she finally saw some hope for her restaurant.