Hongkongers make 1.32 million outbound trips over past 3 days of Christmas break, beating levels recorded before pandemic

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The number of tourists arriving this Christmas was down 27 per cent on the 645,146 visitors for the same period in 2018. The 2019 figure was only 302,882.

For Tuesday, 319,478 departures and 486,110 arrivals were recorded as of 9pm.

Anthea Cheung So-may, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, which groups together 100 restaurants and bars in the popular entertainment area in Central, said fewer people came to the district over the festive break compared with last year when restrictions were still in force.

She urged the government to strengthen ties with the industry, hold more large-scale concerts and invite global star singers and bands to perform in the city to attract more overseas tourists.

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Gianna Hsu Wong Mei-lun, chairwoman of the Travel Industry Council, said she expected the trend of Hongkongers leaving in droves without enough arrivals to make up for them would continue for some time, but good progress had been made.

“We should keep in mind that flight numbers and capacity still have not fully recovered yet [to pre-pandemic levels],” she said.

“We tend to make a lot of comparisons every holiday, but our visitor numbers this year have met or exceeded Tourism Board estimates.”

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The board last month said it expected visitor numbers to surpass 30 million this year. Statistics for November announced earlier this month showed the target had already been reached.

Before the pandemic, Hong Kong recorded 55.9 million visitors in 2019.

Hsu also said Hongkongers heading across the border to spend their days off in cities such as Shenzhen was not a new phenomenon, noting many people did the same decades ago when the Hong Kong dollar was strong against the mainland currency.

“The trend slumped for a while when the yuan was strong, but it has made a return now that it has weakened again,” she said, adding that mainland authorities’ increased efforts in recent months to boost tourism had played a part.

But she said Hong Kong also stood to benefit if mainland tourism thrived.

“For example, I recently spoke to some German travellers who said they had benefited from China’s recently announced visa-free entry policy, and they felt Hong Kong was one of their must-visit places while here.”

Hsu was referring to an announcement by the foreign ministry in November that visa-free entry would be available to French, German, Italian, Spanish, Malaysian and Dutch travellers from this month onwards.

Jonathan Leung Chun, spokesman of the Association of Restaurant Managers and who runs Seafood Delight Group, said crowds appeared to be sparser than last year.

“Perhaps it was because anti-epidemic measures were still in place last year,” he said. “This being the first Christmas since the pandemic, many people have gone travelling.”

A total of 470,648 inbound trips were recorded over the past three days of the Christmas holidays. Photo: Edmond So

He said that while there was still “some business”, most restaurants had only one round of diners per night, compared with multiple sessions in previous years.

Mainland authorities logged a record of more than 16,000 cars heading from the city to Zhuhai using the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge on Christmas Day. More than 300,000 visitor trips were made using the bridge between December 23 and 25, with 187,000 arrivals on the mainland.

On Tuesday, the warmer weather drew more people to popular tourist spots the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade and Avenue of Stars. Most were Mandarin-speaking visitors, with some international tourists.

Nail beautician Simone Steyns, 24, and mine worker Jacques Smith, 30, who arrived in Hong Kong from South Africa on Saturday, said they decided to stop off in the city for four days as it was on the way to their destination in Phuket, Thailand.

The couple visited attractions such as Temple Street Market and Disneyland. They also tried some local delicacies but said that they found Hong Kong expensive.

“The Hong Kong dollar is stronger than the rand. Every time we buy, we make sure we first double-check the price,” Steyns said, adding they planned to spend about HK$5,000 to HK$8,000 excluding the hotel during their stay.

Canadian tourist Daniel Swan, 37, was also in Hong Kong for the first time. The 37-year-old electrician, who arrived on Christmas Eve and will spend five days in the city, said he was looking forward to doing some exploring.

“If you want to take the easy path through things, you’re going to have to spend some money. It’s a once-a-lifetime opportunity for me right now,” Swan said, adding that he planned to spend up to HK$10,000 in Hong Kong.

The government has been ramping up tourism promotion in the city and the Greater Bay Area after lifting all Covid-19 restrictions.

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In October, the Tourism Board teamed up with its Guangzhou and Macau counterparts to promote Greater Bay Area tourism and held its first post-pandemic overseas promotional event in Bangkok. Tourism minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung joined the delegation to Thailand.

Meanwhile, Hsu said an itinerary design competition the Travel Industry Council launched earlier this year was entering its final stages with 30 submissions shortlisted.

However, an announcement on the finalists and public voting on the winners had now been postponed from December 28 to early January, Hsu said, while results would be announced in February.

The competition was launched in August in response to government calls for the industry to come up with new plans to cater to tourists’ changed spending habits, as they were increasingly seeking in-depth tours and cultural experiences rather than shopping and dining.

Additional reporting by Fiona Sun

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