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Hong Kong has to do more to win back ordinary mainland Chinese tourists: academic

Hong Kong has to do more to win back ordinary mainland Chinese tourists: academic
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China watcher says Hong Kong’s talk of need for wealthy tourists over mainstream ones makes ‘mainland compatriots very uncomfortable’

A veteran China watcher and academic has appealed to Hong Kong officials to downplay talk of the need for high-quality tourists and called on the city to tackle discrimination against visitors from mainland China to help restore their confidence.

Lau Siu-kai, a consultant to the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies think tank, said a report from the Beijing-endorsed China Tourism Academy released last week had looked at the emphasis Hong Kong put on bringing in big spenders.

The report suggested that Hong Kong should work to make mainland tourists feel welcome in the city.

“Some people in Hong Kong often talk about attracting high-quality tourists, which makes mainland compatriots very uncomfortable,” Lau said.

“Negative public opinion” and the anti-government protests of 2019 were mentioned in the report as reasons for the fluctuation in the number of mainland visitors to the city over the past 10 years.

“Social divisions, grievances, and lingering stereotypes and discrimination against people from the mainland make tourists feel uncomfortable, and they also feel they have become the target for locals to vent their anger,” Lau said.

“This affects their experience and impression of Hong Kong.”

The report highlighted China’s push for domestic tourism development, as well as its bid to become a major destination for the rest of the world.

It added tourism was a tool for cross-border exchanges, and that Hong Kong and Macau should focus on tourist satisfaction.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, a consultant to the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, says Hong Kong needs to do more to make ordinary mainland Chinese visitors feel welcome in the city. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Lau said the report was designed to provide “well-intentioned and constructive advice to Hong Kong”.

He added the suggestions had little to do with the work of the Hong Kong government, but focused on the social and cultural atmosphere of the city.

Lau said tackling Hong Kong’s tourism problems needed a joint effort by the government and society to make mainland visitors less willing to splash out in high-priced shops and hotels feel at home.

The need to attract “high-quality visitors” with big budgets has often been touted by tourism authorities, industry leaders and lawmakers since the city’s borders reopened after the coronavirus pandemic and Hong Kong realised the previous guaranteed group of high-spending mainland visitors had changed their habits.

The latest example was on Wednesday when lawmaker Nixie Lam asked Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung at a Legislative Council meeting about the development of high-end experiences for wealthy visitors.

Yeung said the Tourism Board planned to adopt a multipronged strategy to attract big spenders to the city, enhance their experience, encourage them to extend their stay and increase their spending.

The academy’s report also said Macau became the top-rated destination for mainland visitor satisfaction in the first quarter of the year with a score of 83.49. Hong Kong ranked seventh with 81.77 points.

Hong Kong placed fifth for the whole of 2023 and Macau took third spot.

The report did not say what the other top cities were, but a separate one released by the academy in April listed the 2023 national top 10 tourist cities with the highest levels of visitor satisfaction as Suzhou, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Kunming, Chongqing, Qingdao, Xian, Nanjing, Beijing and Shenyang.

Hong Kong and Macau were not included on the April list.

Entertainment tycoon and government tourism adviser Allan Zeman said Macau’s tourism industry had become much more competitive in recent years because it had diversified its economy away from gambling.

Zeman added the Macau government’s goal to generate 60 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product from non-gambling sources by 2028 meant pressure was being put on casinos to invest in alternative entertainment.

Six of Macau’s major casino companies agreed in December 2022 to invest 118.8 billion patacas (US$14.78 billion) in non-gambling activities over the next decade after their licences were renewed.

Zeman, who is also the chairman and independent non-executive director of the Wynn Macau resort, said that operators in Macau were keen to bring in the right kind of entertainment and that they were “getting better and better”.

“So Macau is becoming an exciting city. Every week there’s new names coming, putting on shows, and it’s competition for us – we don’t have that,” he said.

“And, of course, the casinos earn a lot of money, so they can keep bringing out new things and reinventing themselves … Macau has suddenly become a very fun place to go to.”

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