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Hong Kong Tourism Board chief Peter Lam Kin-ngok wants mainlanders to be able to apply to visit without going to their hometown – but only Beijing can make change, the South China Morning Post – scmp.com reported.
Allowing mainland residents to apply online for permission to visit Hong Kong could help arrest a collapse in visitor numbers that has hit the hospitality industry as well as local retailers, the head of the tourism board said yesterday.
The switch would mean would-be tourists no longer had to return to their hometowns to apply for the permit, chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok told an economic forum.
But the change would be up to Beijing to implement.
His comments came after months of declining visitor numbers. Even the post-National Day “golden week” holiday at the start of this month – typically a boom time for the industry – saw a year-on-year increase of visitor numbers of just 2.3 per cent, the weakest “golden week” since a small drop in visitor numbers in 2006.
Lam said his biggest concern was a steep decline in the number of visitors staying overnight in the city. He said for the first eight months of this year, the number of mainland tourists staying overnight dropped by 5.9 per cent year on year, and the biggest drop – of 7.7 per cent – was recorded among those coming to Hong Kong on a “one-off individual visit permit”.
The permit is available to residents of 48 mainland cities who wish to visit Hong Kong at least once a year without joining a tour group. Residents of Shenzhen can also apply for permits to cross the border no more than once a week. But permit holders must return to their hometowns to apply for or renew their permits, presenting a snag for the millions of mainlanders who have moved far from home to work.
“Tourists from outside southern China stay in Hong Kong longer, have bigger purchasing power and are the guests that Hong Kong seeks to attract,” Lam said. We should attract more such high-quality tourists to Hong Kong, such as [by asking Beijing to] allow those with electronic passports to apply for a visa on the internet.”
Lam said more than 20 million people held an electronic passport.
In the first nine months of this year, a total of 44.4 million tourists visited Hong Kong – down 0.5 per cent year on year. Some 78 per cent of them came from the mainland.
However speaking at the same forum, Dr David Wong Yau-kar, a local deputy to the National People’s Congress, said the city should do more itself to boost tourism.
For example, the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai was in urgent need of expansion, he argued.
“With no value-added tax, Hong Kong’s advantage as a host for trade exhibitions is much bigger than any mainland city – If a phase three of the centre had been completed today, it would be full already,” Wong said.
The government has earmarked a site for expansion, but construction will not begin until after the Exhibition MTR station is completed in 2020.
Source: South China Morning Post – www.scmp.com
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