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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Lack of airlift hampering tourism industry recovery, experts say

Lack of airlift hampering tourism industry recovery, experts say

Number of visitors jump three-fold after end of Covid-19 restrictions and launch of Hello Hong Kong campaign, but recovery has not met expectations.

The number of visitors to Hong Kong from mainland China and overseas has jumped more than three-fold after a major campaign to attract tourists was launched last month in the wake of the city dropping its final Covid-19 restrictions - but recovery has failed to meet expectations.

Industry insiders on Monday said growth was slower than expected despite figures increasing from 162,836 between January 29 and February 4 to 526,066 for the week to March 11. Some blamed a lack of flights for the industry’s slow climb back to pre-pandemic heights.

Allan Zeman, the biggest landlord in the city’s nightlife hotspot Lan Kwai Fong, said: “The biggest problem is no flights … They can’t get on an aeroplane. The airlines are the heart of international tourism.”

But he said he expected to see stronger growth from international tourists in the second half of the year and into early 2024.

Tourists from mainland China enjoy a visit to Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai.

Gianna Hsu Wong Mei-lun, the chairwoman of the Travel Industry Council, said the increase was slower than expected and also singled out the limited availability of flights. But she added the end to compulsory mask wearing had been helpful to the city’s tourism industry.

She said she hoped the city would see a sharper rise in the number of mainland tourists when the “golden week” holiday started in early May. The mainland reopened its door to visitors for the first time in three years on January 28.

The Hong Kong government launched the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign on February 2 to showcase the city’s return to the global stage after three years of Covid-19. The campaign included a giveaway of more than 500,000 free air tickets to people from countries such as Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.

The drive will also hand out vouchers for drinks, dining and shopping worth HK$100 million (US12.7 million).

The city reopened to the world in stages since last September as it dropped its mandatory hotel quarantine requirement.

Hong Kong ditched all travel curbs last December, which made it one of the last places in the world to return to normality post-pandemic.

The city also resumed isolation-free travel with the mainland last month.

Hong Kong attracted a record 65.1 million visitors in 2018, with nearly four in five from the mainland.

But visitor numbers dropped by 14 per cent to 55.9 million in 2019, with the blame placed on the social unrest that year.

If Hong Kong residents were excluded from arrival figures, out of the 162,836 people who landed in the city in the week from January 29, nearly two-thirds or 104,775 of them were from the mainland and 58,061 were from the rest of the world.

The weekly mainland visitor numbers gradually rose from 104,775 in the week from January 29 to 418,783 to the week from March 5.

Those from elsewhere jumped 84 per cent from 58,061 in the week from January 29 to 107,283 in the week from March 5.

The figures, however, were a fraction compared with the 1.1 million mainland visitors and 280,000 from elsewhere the city logged on average every week in 2018.

Mainlanders account for about 80 per cent of the city’s total visitors at present.

Clients make inquiries about tour packages at a travel agents in the Yue Xiu district of Guangzhou.

Hong Kong flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways was at about 40 per cent of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity in January and aimed to hit 70 per cent capacity by the end of the year.

Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said there were several reasons why mainland visitors had still to return in droves.

He explained the mainland had a different holiday pattern, which was separated into several key periods such as the Lunar New Year and the “golden week” holidays.

Yiu said the slow resumption of transport connections to the mainland was also a problem.

He agreed the city’s flight capacity was another obstacle for mainland and international tourists.

The mainland’s tourism sector was also troubled with labour shortages and information flow disruptions.

A Post reporter recently visited five travel agencies in Guangzhou in Guangdong province and only one, major player GZL International Travel Service, offered package tours to Hong Kong.

An employee at the agency’s service centre explained that the departure of many tour guides over the past three years of the epidemic forced the business to deploy its limited manpower to consultancy services for people who wanted to study or work abroad.

A mainland Chinese woman, surnamed Ma, checking out travel agents in the Yue Xiu district of Guangzhou, talks to a Post reporter.

“The border reopening won’t make the company change its focus overnight, because it will take a long time to rehire people in different positions before resuming tours,” she said.

The Post reporter also talked to eight mainlanders who had travel agencies in the area and none said they heard of the West Kowloon Cultural District arts hub and its two flagship museums that opened during the pandemic.

A woman, surnamed Ma and aged in her 50s, said she was not keen on visiting Hong Kong because the tough Covid-19 restrictions in the mainland transformed her travel style from looking at overseas destinations to underrated spots in the mainland.

“I only realised the excitement of doing a 20-day road trip with my husband to the west to Yunnan province when overseas destinations were off of my list because of the lockdown restrictions,” she said.

“I don’t think the new tourist spots in Hong Kong have more to offer than these.”

A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Tourism Board said a total of 180,000 Hong Kong goodies had already been distributed since Monday, involving more than 16,000 outlets in the city.

The board will also support several major events, including the international Art Basel show this month and the Hong Kong Sevens international rugby tournament to boost the city’s exposure to worldwide audience.


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