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SCMP  20 June 2012

No room for more visitors, Leung says
Chief executive-elect dampens hopes scheme that lets mainland
residents visit will be expanded – unless Hong Kong economy takes a
turn for the worse
Amy Nip
Updated on Jun 20, 2012
Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has echoed concerns by Beijing’s
tourism chief over Hong Kong’s ability to accommodate more visitors,
dampening hopes of expanding the individual visit scheme.
Leung said in an interview on TVB yesterday that the influx of
tourists contributed to inflation of prices in the city. Those
crossing from the mainland to the New Territories, where tourists
usually shop for goods like formula milk, also “disrupt the
livelihood” of residents there, he said. “The mainland government made
the right decision in not expanding the individual visit scheme over
the past five years,” Leung said.

The individual scheme allows 270 million eligible mainland residents
from 49 mainland cities to visit Hong Kong multiple times.

The number of mainland tourists to Hong Kong has increased from 8.5
million in 2003, when the scheme started, to 28.1 million in 2011.

Leung’s statement reflected the concerns of Shao Qiwei , director of
the National Tourism Administration, at a meeting with tourism
industry veterans last week, where Shao questioned whether Hong Kong’s
infrastructure could handle a further jump in numbers.

According to Joseph Tung Yiu-chung, executive director of the Travel
Industry Council, Shao said it often took hours for mainlanders to
cross the border into Hong Kong and that there were worries that the
supply of hotel rooms was inadequate.

However, Leung was quick to add that if the local economy took a turn
for the worse, he would bargain for the central government to extend
the scheme to cover more cities.

The travel scheme used to cover only the four Guangdong cities of
Dongguan , Zhongshan , Jiangmen and Foshan when it was introduced in
2003 as part of a liberalisation measure under the Closer Economic
Partnership Arrangement. The number of eligible cities was broadened
in 2007.

Despite Shao’s concerns, industry experts said there was still room
for more visitors, especially amid the global economic downturn.

Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong
Kong Hotel Owners, said the occupancy rate of top hotels slid from 98
per cent last December to less than 80 per cent this month due to a
decrease in the number of business travellers. Government figures show
another 41 hotels will be finished by 2014, and another 6,000 hotel
rooms will be added to the market by 2016. “If there is no increase in
the number of tourists to match the bigger supply, what are we
supposed to do?” Li said.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Hong Kong Food Council, said
mainlanders spent HK$5 billion on food and beverages over the past
year, about 5 per cent of the city’s total spending. If the number of
tourists dropped, restaurants in tourist districts would be hit, he

Over the past year, people have started to question the travel
scheme’s sustainability. Concern groups said tourist spending led to
inflation, though others argued that mainland visitors were vital for
economic growth and jobs generation. Tourism accounted for 6.2 per
cent of the Hong Kong’s economy in 2010, according to official

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