Sharp rise in Hong Kong tourist arrivals brings hope that slump is over

Government figures reveal visitor numbers rose 8.8 per cent in March in largest rise in more than two years, with mainland and regional tourists coming in large numbers


Government figures show visitor arrivals in March surged by the highest proportion in more than two years following last year’s slump.

The overall figure – of 4.58 million visitors – was up 8.8 per cent. It was higher for mainland visitors, who account for almost three quarters of the total, at 10.4 per cent.

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The rise was even more pronounced for tourists from neighbouring Asian countries. That figure was up 11.5 per cent, thanks to large influxes from Japan and South Korea, according to data from the Immigration Department.

But there is continuing concern over arrival figures from long-haul markets.

An early preview of April’s tourism data showed arrivals in the first half grew 5.5 per cent, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung revealed.

He spoke about “a very good trend” in recent weeks. So also noted that Hong Kong had the capacity to welcome more visitors, with the number of hotel rooms set to grow 25 per cent to about 95,000 in two years.

Tourism officials are pinning hopes on mainland and regional neighbours through more offers and special travel packages.

After a slump in mainland arrivals last year, the tourism sector remains cautious about whether a sustainable recovery is under way.

Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat, said: “Right now it’s too early to say whether there will be continuous growth.

“We are still facing fierce competition from destinations in the region like Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and South Korea.”

Wong said he was encouraged that short-haul visitor numbers were picking up but was more cautious about the prospects for attracting tourists from traditional long-haul markets like the United States, Britain, Australia and France.

A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Tourism Board said it would “strive to keep up the strong momentum and continue to collaborate with industry partners to roll out offers and special travel products targeting the family and young segments to attract more overnight visitors from the mainland and various short-haul markets.”

Commenting on the March figures, So called on legislators and all stakeholders to work together to develop the tourism sector. He called in particular for lawmakers to approve the HK$5.45 billion funding request to expand the Disneyland theme park on Lantau Island.

Lawmakers in the Finance Committee yet again failed to vote on the funding request after five hours of debate on Friday. They will resume debate on Tuesday.

So said the Walt Disney Company had made it clear that the next government would not get a better deal.

-SCMP

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