World’s longest sea crossing pulls in the tourists, while firms see bright future ahead as Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge opens to the public
- Travel agents, coach operators and retailers hope bridge will bring boost to their businesses
- While reduced travel time sees more than 20,000 visitors use it on opening day
From both sides of the border they came. Young and old, rich and poor, all drawn to see an astounding feat of human engineering.
Taking pictures when they were allowed, simply marvelling at the sheer size of the world’s longest sea crossing when not, and enjoying the ability to drive and be driven between three cities more quickly than ever before, more than 20,000 people used the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge on Wednesday.
Law Chit-kwong, 55, a construction worker on the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok link that will connect the border crossing facility to the northwest New Territories, took a day off to witness the moment.
“Of course, I am happy – I spent five years building it,” he said.
Retiree Ricky Fung Kwan-wah, 66, who joined a one-day tour to Macau and Zhuhai, praised the design of the border clearance building, calling it “beautiful, with ceiling lights that kept changing colours”.
“I want to see [Hong Kong Chief Executive] Carrie Lam,” he joked.
In total, more than 90 tourist groups crossed the bridge, it would have been far more but tour operators, like many others, were caught out by the speed with which it was opened to the public, so soon after President Xi Jinping had cut the ribbon on Tuesday.
Jason Wong Chun-tat, chairman of the Tourism Industry Council and owner of Hong Thai Travel Services, said his firm sent only one group of 40 people for a one-day trip to Zhuhai on Wednesday.
“[But], we will have groups departing on each of the following days for cities including Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Jiangmen,” he said.
A tourist attraction in itself on its first day in operation, the business opportunities have not gone unnoticed by travel companies, coach operators and trucking firms either.
The multibillion-dollar 55km bridge placed the three cities within an hour’s commute of one another, further facilitating the “Greater Bay Area” initiative – a government scheme to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province into an economic and technology hub.
Matthew Wong Leung-pak, chairman of Kwoon Chung Bus Holdings, said his firm could eventually operate about 240 round trips per day. But on Wednesday it could only offer about 180 trips to both Zhuhai and Macau after only getting five days’ notice that the bridge was opening on Wednesday.
“I think I share the same feeling with many passengers, that the ride today was very smooth with convenient and efficient customs procedures at both the Hong Kong and Zhuhai Port,” he said in Zhuhai, after crossing the bridge soon after it opened.
Wong believes visitors will switch to using the bridge from their previous cross-border route via Shenzhen Bay, especially if travelling to places such as Hengqin, Yangjiang and Jiangmen. Many parts of the western district of Guangdong are not serviced by the high-speed rail network.
“Compared with those passing through the Shenzhen Bay port for going to western Guangdong, travelling on the bridge is at least one hour faster,” Wong said.
In the future, the firm plans to connect six of its urban routes, which operate from areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, to Zhuhai and 18 other mainland cities in the province using the world’s longest sea crossing.
With the short notice, One Bus Hong Kong Macau managing director Teddy Chung Wai-tong said the required permits had not been secured for some of its buses, but the company could provide 38 trips between Kwun Tong and the gambling hub as planned starting from Thursday.
Despite that, Chung said ticket sales had been “ideal”. Tickets had sold out for the first day, and he said there were only a few seats left on his buses for the rest of the week.
Other industries expecting the bridge to provide a sales boost include shopping centres along the coach route.
Maureen Fung Sau-yim, executive director at Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency, predicted that after the development of coach services became “mature”, tourists could comprise 15 to 20 per cent of the total visitors to APM mall in Kwun Tong, a 10 per cent increase.
In Macau, local retailers around the Rua da Felicidade, a popular tourist spot, hoped the new bridge would boost their businesses on Wednesday.
Chao Sio-hong, owner of Mercearia Fu Loi, a shop selling traditional candies and biscuits, said she felt there were more visitors walking in the streets.
“It [the bridge] should bring in more people as it becomes convenient for people to travel around,” Chao said.
Liu Yanhai, 30, a property agent from Nanjing, visited Macau after travelling via Hong Kong to mark the opening. He praised the new link for bringing convenience to tourists and connecting the cities better.
He said he planned to spend about 2,000 yuan in the casino city on food and leisure.
Additional reporting by Cannix Yau