1.3 million Hong Kong cross-border trips over festival weekend, but only 424,840 come in

Hong Kong residents made more than a million trips across the border over the Dragon Boat Festival holiday – more than three times the number of visitors who travelled in the opposite direction, Immigration Department figures have shown.

The grim news sparked a warning from the retail industry that major holidays were no longer guaranteed to drum up an increase in business for the city.

Department statistics released on Monday showed Hongkongers made 1.3 million trips out of the city from Friday to Sunday and a total of 424,840 people arrived.

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A further breakdown found 89 per cent of residents who left had used border checkpoints with mainland China, including Lo Wu, West Kowloon Station and the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, which suggested they were taking trips north for the long weekend as the festival fell on Monday.

There were 333,692 mainland arrivals to the city over the period, although the festival was a public holiday across the border as well.

“Peak seasons and holidays nowadays no longer manifest the same way we are traditionally used to,” Association of Restaurant Managers’ spokesman Jonathan Leung Chun said.

“In the past, we automatically expected those times to draw increased sales and more people onto the streets ... but that is no longer the case.”

Tourists take selfies on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront over the Dragon Boat Festival long weekend. Photo: Jelly Tse

The Dragon Boat Festival numbers corresponded with statistics released by authorities earlier this week, amid concerns about a continued trend for Hongkongers to flock to neighbouring cities like Shenzhen.

But not enough visitors have arrived to balance the departures, which has hit the Hong Kong economy.

More than 74 million trips were made by residents through border checkpoints from May 2023 to April this year – more than double the 28 million or so trips mainland visitors made to Hong Kong over the same time frame.

Leung also questioned whether too many residents travelling north was the only reason Hong Kong’s streets were feeling “much emptier than pre-pandemic times”, as neighbouring Macau had enjoyed an influx of Hong Kong visitors as well.

“Maybe there are some problems with our competitiveness at the moment,” he said.

“Macau seems to be investing heavily in marketing and promotion to attract visitors, which Hong Kong might consider doing in the future.”

Macau authorities have vowed to diversify the city’s economy from its mainstay of casinos. It wants 60 per cent of its gross domestic product to come from sources other than gambling by 2028.

Major casino operators have pledged to inject hundreds of billions of patacas into non-gambling attractions as part of their licence agreements, which has meant a major increase in the range of entertainment.

Eric Chung Pok-man, the general officer of the Hong Kong Department Stores and Commercial Staff General Union, said the retail sector had seen better business over the Dragon Boat Festival long weekend compared with Easter.

“But that is likely to be due to Easter not being a holiday on the mainland,” he said.

“Hong Kong’s expensive currency was a continued problem,” Chung added.

He repeated calls for authorities to increase the duty free tax threshold for mainlanders, which at present is pegged at 5,000 yuan a trip.

Lawmaker Kenneth Leung Yuk-wai last week asked whether authorities had carried out any research to find out why residents travelled to neighbouring cities for “cross-city consumption” and gauge the effects on the economy.

He also asked if there were plans to encourage more “two-way travel” and “two‍-‍way consumption” between Hong Kong and Greater Bay Area cities.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau Ying-wah said no studies had been carried out.

“The change in consumption patterns of visitors and Hong Kong residents’ increased spending on the mainland ... [has] indeed posed challenges to the operations of certain local small and medium enterprises [SMEs],” he said.

“The government has been providing assistance to SMEs, including those in the retail sector ... with a view to helping them cope with liquidity shortage, and encouraging them to enhance their competitiveness and develop more diversified markets.”

He added that more than 100 “mega events” would be held in the second half of the year, targeted at a range of audiences.

Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said after the release of the second-half calendar in May that it was hoped that mega events for the entire year would help bring in an extra 1.7 million visitors.

The government said the recently concluded “Art@Harbour2024” event recorded a total attendance of more than 1.3 million people, 20 per cent of them tourists.

The latest figures from the Census and Statistics Department showed total sales in April were much worse than expected.

The sector suffered a 14.7 per cent drop compared with a year ago, and double the decline recorded in March.

A government spokesman said the decrease had been worsened by the large number of people who had left Hong Kong over Easter, which had hit consumption, not only while they were away, but also on days either side of their breaks.

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