HK must win back favor of mainland tourists

By Louise Ho Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-26 19:28:02

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A recent research report by Hong Kong-based brokerage CLSA has predicted that the city is losing favor with mainland tourists who will turn to Japan, South Korea, Britain and France as their preferred destinations.

Hong Kong remained the most popular destination for mainland tourists in 2014, and 60 percent of mainland tourists surveyed said they still plan to visit Hong Kong this year.

However, CLSA feels Hong Kong is losing its status and forecasts that Japan, South Korea and France will be the top three destinations for mainland tourists in future.

Hong Kong received 47.2 million mainland visitors in 2014, a year-on-year increase of 16 percent, but CLSA predicts only a 4 percent annual growth rate over 2013 to 2020, compared to 14 percent for other destinations.

It hardly comes as a surprise that mainland visitors have begun to snub Hong Kong as a travel destination. The city lacks attractive tourist sites for which mainland tourists will return. The Ocean Park is a unique theme park in Hong Kong, but I doubt it has enough attractive power to make mainland tourists revisit over and over again. Because many mainland tourists have already visited Hong Kong, some will choose to explore places they are less familiar with.

The majority of mainland tourists go to Hong Kong to shop for the many brands and discounts it offers. However, the city is facing intense competition from South Korea, Japan and Singapore, especially as the Hong Kong dollar, which is pegged to a strong US dollar, loses some advantages to its peers. For example, the Japanese yen has depreciated since last year, boosting consumption and tourism.

Another problem that has been haunting Hong Kong for many years is the lack of affordable accommodation for tourists. Some mainland tourists opt to stay in hotels in Shenzhen and travel to the island every day because hotels in Hong Kong are too expensive, or the affordable ones are fully booked.

Political issues in Hong Kong in recent years have also added fuel to the fire. Mainland tourists feel they are not welcomed by locals.

The Occupy protests late last year have further affected tourism sentiment as 38 percent of respondents in the CLSA survey said the protests have reduced their interest in traveling to Hong Kong.

The report cites safety as among the major concerns of Chinese travelers when they choose their destinations. If they don't feel safe or welcome in Hong Kong, of course they will spend their money elsewhere.

While Hong Kong was still the top destination for mainland tourists last year, its competitors have gone to great lengths to lure Chinese tourists, who are collectively the world's biggest spenders. Figures from the UN World Tourism Organization show Chinese tourists spent $129 billion in 2013 worldwide.

Earlier in January, Japan relaxed the annual salary requirement for Chinese recipients of 3-year multiple entry visas who have traveled to Japan in the last three years. Chinese online travel platforms such as Ctrip have estimated that the number of Chinese tourists to Japan will be the highest in three years during the Spring Festival holidays. The US also extended tourist visas for Chinese travelers for up to a decade at the end of 2014.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong is still an international shopping hub, and some of its qualities will remain appealing to mainland tourists. It is still one of the closest destinations for mainland tourists.

And as a Chinese city, Hong Kong shares a similar culture with the mainland. Mainland tourists can easily get around with Putonghua.

The CLSA report indicates that Hong Kong cannot afford to lose its edge in a highly competitive tourism industry. The current situation has already made mainland tourists think twice before they visit Hong Kong.

If the Hong Kong government does not formulate a long-term plan to build more tourism infrastructure, including affordable hotels and large shopping malls in areas close to Shenzhen, and if the whole society dwells on protests and not progress, Hong Kong will pay a heavy price when the city falls off the must-visit list for once-passionate mainland tourists.

The author is the deputy managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.

Posted in: Viewpoint, Commentary

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