Hong Kong vies with Macau for 2008 China tourists


Hong Kong – Hong Kong, one of Asia’s hottest destinations, hopes to welcome more than 30 million visitors in 2008 as mainland Chinese throng the city’s shops and restaurants despite global stock market turmoil. The tiny city of 7 million has as many visitors a year as Japan, Thailand and Singapore combined but is fending off a resurgent Macau.

It estimates it would take in a record 30.43 million visitors this year, more than half of those from China. Tourists were also expected to spend 11 percent more this year than last, an estimated HK$152.7 billion (US$19.6 billion), according to a paper prepared by Hong Kong’s tourism promotion board. “In August, the 2008 Beijing Olympics will take centre stage,” the board said.

“The Games, along with the equestrian events to be held in Hong Kong, will lend Hong Kong an epochal opportunity to highlight to the world its international cosmopolitan image.” Hong Kong punches above its weight in the tourism stakes because of a reputation as a shopping haven, an aviation hub and proximity to booming China. Tourism yields between a fifth to a third of the city’s retail sales and in 2007, it accounted for between 6 and 8 percent of its economy, analysts estimate.

But the number of visitors to adjacent Macau jumped almost 23 percent in 2007 to over 27 million, putting the Chinese gambling haven and former Portuguese enclave on track to surpass its neighbour if growth rates are maintained. To try to counter that, Hong Kong is touting itself as a luxury cruise hub and venue for corporate conferences, as Macau and its glitzy casinos vie for the convention business.

Macau’s economy boomed after a decades-long casino monopoly was dissolved and Beijing loosened travel restrictions on Chinese tourists from dozens of cities. Vegas-style casinos have sprung up, including Las Vegas Sands’ palatial Venetian — the biggest casino on earth. The biggest and one of the fastest growing sources of visitors to Hong Kong and Macau last year was China, accounting for 55 percent of the total.

The number of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong this year is expected to grow 8.3 percent to 16.76 million. China in 2006 had more visits than any other country, with 124 million international arrivals, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association. Thailand had nearly 14 million arrivals in 2006, Malaysia saw 17.5 million arrivals and Singapore had more than 9 million, the association said. Japan welcomed 7.3 million visitors.