HK actively preparing to welcome mainland tourists after border reopens, says city lawmaker
Published: Jan 10, 2023 02:11 AM
Perry Yiu Photo: Yun Tianhua/GT

Perry Yiu Photo: Yun Tianhua/GT

Hong Kong's tourism industry is preparing and actively reshaping itself, such as exploiting its potential for red tourism, to welcome tourists from the mainland, as the border reopening between the mainland and Hong Kong offers hope for the city's battered tourism industry, said Hong Kong's tourism sector lawmaker Perry Yiu, who also noted a V-turn recovery for tourism is not likely in the near future.

On what he described as a "historic" day as the mainland and Hong Kong reopened the border on Sunday, Yiu went to the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal to receive the first batch of passengers traveling from Shenzhen's Shekou port that day. "Only a few dozen passengers were on that boat, which can ferry nearly 300 people. But we are excited anyway. Opening the border between the mainland and Hong Kong is an important step for our tourism recovery," Yiu told the Global Times in an interview on Monday.

At the initial stage of border reopening, a daily quota of Hong Kong travelers heading to the mainland will be set at 60,000; a quota will also apply to mainland travelers heading to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong topped the list of destinations of mainland travelers after China reopened the border with the city.

Appointments for mainlanders' applications to travel to Hong Kong were fully booked on Monday, the second day after such processing resumed. Tour groups are not allowed just yet.

Yiu said that the tourist industry in Hong Kong is also actively preparing for an influx of travelers from the mainland. "Hong Kong's tourism industry has suffered for three and a half years, including both the pandemic and social unrest in the second half of 2019," said Yiu. He called the border reopening on Sunday the "first light of dawn."

Only 440,000 tourists made trips to Hong Kong from January to November last year, compared with 65 million in 2018, according to Yiu.

Mainland tourists were the biggest group of Hong Kong's visitors in previous years. In 2018, 78 percent of the 65 million who visited Hong Kong were from the mainland. Yet from January to November 2022, slightly more than 307,000 tourists came from the mainland, according to official statistics.

Yiu believes that a V-turn for the Hong Kong tourism industry is not likely in the near future, citing reasons such as the approaching Chinese New Year, which falls on January 22 and for which most people head home to be with family instead of traveling to other cities. Other factors are the current quota for travelers and the fact that tour groups on both sides have not resumed.

Another concern is the shortage of employees. Yiu said that before the pandemic, there were roughly 1,700 travel agencies in the city, and almost 300 travel agencies in Hong Kong went bankrupt in the past three years. People will be reluctant to return to the travel business in the near future, due to the slow recovery, said Yiu.

"I believe after Chinese New Year the number of tourists from the mainland will slowly pick up," said the lawmaker. He also said further relaxing of the border quota will also help.

In the meantime, Yiu said the Hong Kong tourist industry is actively preparing. "Hong Kong's tourism industry was spoiled in previous years as it appeals to tourists, even though it did not need to make dedicated plans to attract them."

But now things have changed after three years. Even though tourism was nearly frozen for three years, Hong Kong has been gearing up to push for new tourist attractions, and has added new features.

Hong Kong Palace Museum is a case in point. The museum officially opened to the public in July last year, showcasing more than 900 precious cultural relics selected from Beijing, including 166 first-class national cultural relics, to show China's long history and unique culture.

Yiu said that Hong Kong is also reshaping itself to cater for tourists from all over the globe, offering special packages such as sports and culture tourism.

The lawmaker specially mentioned red tourism, which has been booming in the mainland in recent years. "Hong Kong also has room for red tourism, as the city has many historical relics, such as those built during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45)."

Red tourism, according to Yiu, can not only attract mainland travelers; it also helps the public in Hong Kong, especially the younger generations, to form a deeper understanding of history and elevate their national identity awareness.