Hong Kong’s media has closely tracked the number of tourists arriving from mainland China over the National Day holidays. Visitor flows are seen as a barometer for conditions in the city’s retail sector, as well as an indicator on the health of the broader economy.
So what to make of this year’s figures, with hardly any arrivals because of quarantine controls amid the Covid-19 pandemic?
Data from Hong Kong’s immigration department revealed that just 433 people crossed into Hong Kong from mainland China during the first three days of the eight-day holiday (which started on October 1), compared with more than 600,000 last year and 1.5 million in 2018.
Almost all of those previous visitors will have opted for domestic trips during the latest ‘Golden Week’ holiday, which was expected to play host to a surge in homegrown tourism.
Because many sites and attractions are still operating at half capacity on social distancing requirements, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism had predicted local trips would top 550 million over the period, or about 70% of last year’s figure.
Local tourists made 205 million trips in the first two days of the vacation, ministry officials reported. However, soon afterwards there were reports that tourist revenues were down 31% to Rmb312 billion ($45.9 billion) over the first four days of the break compared to the same period last year, while average spending per tourist had fallen 12%.
The ministry said on Sunday that 425 million Chinese had travelled between Thursday and Sunday, a drop from 542 million in the same period last year.
Where were they heading? Many tourists seem to have been keen to honour the citizens of Wuhan for their sacrifices during the city’s extended lockdown (the capital of Hubei province, Wuhan was ringfenced for more than 76 days before the coronavirus epidemic was brought under control).
The city’s iconic Yellow Crane Tower has been one of the most sought-after destinations over the last week, with visitor numbers hitting the daily ceiling of 25,000 and ticket allocations fully filled for the remainder of the holiday.
“The number of daily tourists has doubled since we exempted the entrance fee,” an employee at the tower told the Global Times last week, offering another reason for the influx.
Other favourite attractions like the Badaling section of the Great Wall outside Beijing reached the 75% threshold of normal capacity imposed by the authorities, although that was still a daily load of 48,750 visitors.
The cinema sector has also rebounded over the holiday as more than 50 million people turned up at theatres in the first three days, bringing in a box office haul of Rmb3.1 billion.
Both figures were better than last year’s, despite social distancing controls in most venues.
Tourism flows from the National Day holidays will be scrutinised more closely this year as part of the government’s new “internal circulation” strategy for the economy (see WiC508), which puts greater emphasis on domestic consumption, China Securities Journal believes. The tourism sector has run up net deficits for years, the newspaper adds, with outbound trips exceeding incoming arrivals. That’s because people with the financial means to travel have often preferred to go abroad rather than undertake domestic tours in China.
This year the same choice hasn’t been available, of course. “The Golden Week holidays during the pandemic have offered a golden opportunity for the Chinese tourism industry to showcase its attractions to Chinese consumers,” China Securities Journal remarked.“They should seize the chance and offer better service and infrastructure, and prepare for the challenge once border controls and social distancing measures are lifted.”
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