22 January 2019
Hong Kong's tourism sector has been spoiled by the influx of mainland tourists, failing to react to the surge of international visitors in the region. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong's tourism sector has been spoiled by the influx of mainland tourists, failing to react to the surge of international visitors in the region. Photo: HKEJ

How good is Hong Kong tourism without China factor?

Forget the claim that Hong Kong had surpassed Paris as the world’s top tourist destination. That was ages ago when the city was still crawling with mainland visitors.

Without the mainland suitcases, Hong Kong is just so-so.

It has emerged that Hong Kong only ranked seventh among the most popular destinations in the Asia Pacific, counting only 8.3 million international visitors last year, according to a MasterCard survey. It trailed behind Bangkok (21.9 million), Singapore (11.8 million), Tokyo (11.8 million), Kuala Lumpur (11.3 million), Phuket (9.3 million) and Seoul (9.2 million). 

In 2014, Hong Kong ranked No. 4 in the Asia Pacific with 8.84 million international visitors, following Bangkok (16.42 million), Singapore (12.47 million) and Kuala Lumpur (8.84 million).

Last year, Hong Kong was also lower, No. 9, in terms of tourist spending, at US$6.7 billion. In 2014, it ranked No. 5 at US$8.3 billion.  

Before Hong Kong tourism players start blaming localists for ruining Hong Kong’s reputation with their anti-mainland protests early last year, they should understand that this MasterCard survey actually didn’t cover the mainland tourists, who mainly use UnionPay card.

What this survey can tell us is that Hong Kong’s tourism sector is falling behind its Asian peers. 

Hong Kong’s tourism players have been spoiled by an influx of mainland tourists over the past few years and failed to react to a surge of international visitors in the region.

But now they are struggling to attract mainland tourists, who are skipping Hong Kong in favor of other cities.

During the Lunar New Year holiday, over six million mainlanders traveled overseas, and their favorite destinations were Thailand, Japan and Korea, in that order.

As one would have expected, Thai spa centers, Japanese pharmacies and Korean cosmetic stores figured high in their itineraries, in the same way that loaded Chinese customers poured into gold and jewelry stores in Tsim Sha Tsui just two years ago.

Australia and the United Kingdom also saw a tsunami of Chinese visitors in merry February, who gave their flagging economies a much-needed boost.

All seemed happy, except for Hong Kong which saw a 6.26 percent year-on year drop in the number of visitors at 2.27 million in the first six days of the Lunar New Year.

By discounting the impact of Chinese visitors, one can perhaps assess more accurately the intrinsic attractiveness of Hong Kong as a tourist destination, especially in this era of the strong US dollar when tourists tend to prefer countries with weaker currencies to Hong Kong whose currency is pegged to the greenback.

Still, Hong Kong is the only city in Greater China that made it to the top 10 MasterCard Asia Pacific Destination Index, which shows that the top 20 destinations in the region account for about half of all overnight arrivals the world over.

According to the survey, Hong Kong outperformed Taipei (6.4 million), Shanghai (5.5 million), Beijing (4.0 million), Guangdong province (3.9 million) and Macau (2.0 million) in visitor arrivals.

But in terms of tourist spending per day, Hong Kong, at US$240, trailed Shanghai (US$269), Beijing (US$262), Seoul (US$258) and Singapore (US$255).

In terms of tourist expenditures, Hong Kong, at US$6.7 billion, had less than half of what top destination Bangkok got (US$15.2 billion).

It also trailed Seoul (US$14.4 billion), which ranked second, Singapore (US$14.1 billion), Tokyo (US$11.9 billion) and Kuala Lumpur (US$10.5 billion).

These top destinations were followed by Bali (US$10.3 billion), Taipei (US$9.5 billion) and Phuket (US$8 billion).

Given all these figures, Hong Kong really needs to reassess its place in international tourism and find a way to prevail in this thriving industry.

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EJ Insight writer

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