Hong Kong sees growth in tourist numbers despite hardships

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The doom and gloom has been well and truly lifted from the Hong Kong tourism industry with the announcement this week that for all the city's hardships over the past 12 months, a record number of visitors still came to town.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) says provisional total arrivals figured for 2009 have reached 29.59 million - an increase of 0.3 percent over 2008 and ahead of the traditionally conservative HKTB's own original forecast of a 1.6 percent drop in numbers for 2009.

And much of Hong Kong's joy has been attributed to a late-year increase in the number of people who came to town from across the border in China. More than a million more Chinese tourists visited Hong Kong than was the case in 2008 - and they accounted for almost 60 percent of the total number of visitors over the year.

"During the first half of 2009, our tourism performance was severely impacted by the global financial crisis that emerged since the third quarter of 2008 and the outbreak of human swine influenza in May 2009," HKTB chairman James Tien said through a press release.

"However, starting from the third quarter of 2009, visitors' concern about the outbreak gradually subsided while the economic conditions also improved.''

Enough it seems to also set a record for attendance at Hong Kong's annual end-of-year Brand and Products Expo - the largest outdoor expo the city holds each year.

The event - which closed its gates on Monday - this year attracted 2.18 million shoppers over its 24-day run, up from 2.16 million last year. And organizers claimed a large percentage of those visitors were day-trippers from mainland China.

Mr. Tien explained in his release that the HKTB had supported the Hong Kong government's recent relaxation of visa requirements from those Chinese who live just over the border in Shenzhen - and that the city was feeling the benefits.

"The implementation of arrangements that facilitate multiple individual visits by permanent Shenzhen residents, as well as greater desire for outbound travel among Mainland visitors, have fuelled robust growth of the Mainland arrivals, contributing to the 0.3 per cent gain in overall arrivals in 2009." he said.

The complete tourism figures for Hong Kong are expected to be released at the end of the month.

Where they came from:

Mainland China - 17.69 million (up 6.5 percent)

Short-haul markets (less than three hours away, excluding mainland China) - 7.49 million (down 8.6 percent)

Long-haul markets - 4.41 million (down 6.1 percent)