Mainland Chinese visitors help lift mood in Hong Kong

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Tourism officials and retailers both got their wish over the National Day week, with almost 600,000 mainland Chinese visitors flocking to Hong Kong. For local industries hit hard by the global tourism downturn, it was a welcome change in fortune.

Hong Kong - like pretty much everywhere else in the world - has seen tourist numbers dropping by near double figures throughout 2009. But from October 1-8, things were a little different.

Visitors from mainland China - Hong Kong primary source - topped out at 590,882, which was 15.8 per cent more than for the same holiday week period last year (which fell September 29-October 6).

Tour operators apparently benefited most, seeing 42,906 Chinese visitors sign on for their services, a rise of 36.1 per cent, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

"While remarkable growth was recorded for the Mainland arrivals during the period, the market conditions remain volatile," HKTB chairman James Tien said on releasing the figures.

"Building on the positive trend, we will continue to strengthen our promotions in the coming months, so that we can attract even more visitors in the fourth quarter of this year."

The HKTB has been offering discounts on tour packages, while promoting the city's culinary culture in past months in an effort to lure more visitors from mainland China - and from other places.

Taiwan in particular has been a target as Hong Kong fights to regain ground lost since the warming of relations between the island state and China.

The HKTB says 1.4 million Taiwanese visited Hong Kong in the first eight months of the year, a drop of 10.6 per cent from last year.

Daily direct flights and direct shipping between the mainland and Taiwan began on December 15 last year. Before that, the majority of Taiwanese people had to fly via Hong Kong to travel to and from mainland China.

In an effort to fight the decline, the HKTB has been lining up a collection of the city's food critics to culinary tours. It has also started promoting guided hikes through Hong Kong's dense hillsides.