Hong Kong tourism chiefs toasting better days

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The Independent Online

Tourism chiefs in Hong Kong have had added cause for celebration this festive season with visitor numbers rising and the darker days of 2008-09 already fading to a distant memory.

An easing of travel restrictions and more promotions targeting two of the city's most famous attractions - namely its shopping and culinary delights - seem to have worked their magic with the vital mainland Chinese market too.

While overall figures just released by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) show visitor numbers rose by an impressive 7.6 percent in November, year on year, the number of mainland Chinese heading south leapt some 13.3 percent.

There were 2,606,085 registered tourists moving through Hong Kong in November - and 1,544,531 of them came from the mainland, traditionally the city's main provider of visitors.

Much of that has to do with the combined effects of the multiple entry visas now available to residents of Shenzhen, just over the border from Hong Kong, as well as specific promotions that have offered discounts on food and wine in the city and cut-price bargains in general for shoppers, according to the HKTB.

The figures now have Hong Kong set to break the yearly record of 30 million visitors, which was set in 2008, with December having already seen significant numbers of extra tourists hit town for the East Asian Games multi-sport event, plus the annual 44th Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo, which ends on January 4 and last year attracted 2.16 million visitors.

Increased flights to India from Hong Kong also saw visitors from that market increase by 28.5 percent year on year while, overall, South and Southeast Asian markets registered a combined growth of 5.2 percent - the biggest positives coming out of the markets of Indonesia (up 26.9 percent) and Thailand (+11.9 percent).

An easing of the world's economic woes - combined with fewer reported cases of swine flu - was given by the HKTB as the reason why long-haul visitor numbers also increased while the organization also highlighted increases in emerging markets for Hong Kong, such as Russia (up 37.8 percent) and the Middle East (up 42.4 percent).