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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 29, 2002

Hong Kong lures mainlanders

By Mielikki Org
Bloomberg News Service

HONG KONG — Zhou Yun-he had never seen a dolphin. The 65-year-old retiree who used to sell farm equipment in Guangxi, China, watched as three somersaulted at Hong Kong's Ocean Park.

A tourist from mainland China checks a map at Hong Kong's No. 2 tourist attraction, Ocean Park.

Bloomberg News Service

"We have parks in China, but none of them are as good as this one," said Zhou. "And all the stuff we have is really simple, nothing like this," he said, pointing to the roller coasters and cable cars.

Mainland Chinese tourists have poured across the border since the Chinese government started relaxing restrictions on business and leisure travel to Hong Kong in 1991. The numbers have tripled to 4.4 million in the past decade.

Chinese visitors now make up more than a third of visitors, nearly five times more than American or Japanese, and they spend more in the city than any other group, according to the Hong Kong Tourist Board.

"The purchasing power of mainland tourists may not be the same as other tourists, but they're much more willing to spend," said Dick Li, an economist from Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Shopping is listed as one of their favorite activities, along with visiting sites such as Victoria Peak and Ocean Park. Last year, mainland tourists profited from economic growth averaging 7 percent a year, spending about HK$5,169 ($633) each on tourism, diamonds, jewelry and watches, the report said.

Chinese mainlanders are traveling elsewhere as well. Thailand, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines have three to five times as many mainland Chinese visitors as a decade ago, the report said. Hong Kong, with 2.5 million so far this year, received the most.

In Asia overall, tourism grew by 6 percent last year, compared with double-digit growth the previous two years. Tourism worldwide fell by 0.5 percent last year, the biggest drop since World War II, said the World Tourism Organization.

The Hong Kong government is spending HK$17.9 billion over five years to woo speakers of Mandarin, the principal language of mainland China.

The government is allowing the flow. A quota of 16,000 mainland entries was ended in January, and maximum stays have been extended to 14 days. Hong Kong air, land, and port authorities will open up new routes to the mainland as early as next year. Travel agencies in China that offer trips to Hong Kong have multiplied from four to 67.

Low taxes on luxury goods are one of the biggest draws. Jewelry, taxed as much as 40 percent in mainland China, makes up nearly two-thirds of mainland tourist purchases, the tourist board said.

Piaget and Patek Phillipe watches, which cost at least HK$50,000, are the preferred brands, said Kurt Tam, a manager with King Fook jewelers in Hong Kong's downtown Central district.