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Hong Kong`s provisional March 2003 visitor arrivals data shows difficult times ahead

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) issued provisional arrivals figures for March 2003 today, showing that despite a severe fall-off in…

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) issued provisional arrivals figures for March 2003 today, showing that despite a severe fall-off in arrivals following the outbreak of a typical pneumonia (AP) in the middle of March, overall arrivals for the month remained in positive growth. Provisionally, there were around 1.34 million arrivals, an increase of 3.6% over the same month in 2002.

However, the rapid downturn in arrivals to Hong Kong can be seen by comparing the first 15 days of the month, when growth of 19.1% was recorded, and the last 16 days, which saw a 10.4% fall.

HKTB Executive Director Clara Chong said that although these figures were only provisional, and it was not yet possible to give market-by-market breakdowns, the Board was releasing them at the earliest possible opportunity as it was aware that the travel industry and the media were very anxious to get an up-to-date picture of the impact of AP on visitor arrivals.

It seems that in the early stages of the outbreak, the drop in arrivals was not too severe, Ms Chong noted. This is because many travellers had already confirmed their bookings, and at that stage only a few countries had issued advisories on travel to this region. However, the situation has become progressively worse as worldwide concern about the spread of AP has grown.

The rapidly declining trend is obviously very worrying, and we know that forward bookings for the next few months are very low indeed. It is clear already that April is going to be an extremely difficult month for the tourism industry, especially now that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a global advisory against non-essential travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong.

This measure will undoubtedly affect tourism in the short term, but it is only temporary and the WHO has said that it will be reassessed as the situation stabilises, Ms Chong added. We know that the Government and all parties involved are doing their best to improve the situation. It is encouraging to see that the WHO has recognised the effective measures Hong Kong is taking to tackle the problem.

Ms Chong added that although the AP outbreak was by far the major issue affecting travel to Hong Kong, the Iraq war was another dampening factor. Even if the AP situation shows improvement, a long drawn-out war would continue to affect public sentiment to travel, she said.

Ms Chong said that the HKTB, its overseas offices, the Government and the travel trade both locally and internationally were now starting to prepare a strong comeback campaign to restore travellers` confidence in Hong Kong as soon as the time was right. All the fundamentals that make Hong Kong such a diverse and exciting place to visit are still there, she noted.

The entire industry stands ready to unite in putting Hong Kong firmly back on the tourism map.

February 2003 Visitor Arrivals

The HKTB also today issued its detailed visitor arrivals statistics for February 2003. These show that the strong momentum seen in the January figures was maintained in February, with arrivals growing 26.2% compared with the same month in 2002. Total arrivals were 1,408,139, the highest February figure on record, with every long-haul and short-haul market showing positive growth.

When the provisional arrivals for March are taken into account, cumulative arrivals for the first three months of 2003 stand at nearly 4.3 million, a growth of 19.8%. While this has given us a very solid start to the year, it is very difficult to predict the longer-term outlook due to the twin concerns of AP and the war, which are now affecting the tourism market on a global scale, Ms Chong said.

Every market showed positive growth in February, several of them double-digit growth including Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific (27,351 arrivals, +19.4%), South & Southeast Asia (119,088, +19.2%) and Europe, Africa & the Middle East (88,966, +15.6%). Arrivals from North Asia rose 7.1% to 140,108; those from The Americas by 5.7% to 84,964; and those from Taiwan by 0.6% to 192,557. Once again, however, Mainland China was the star performer, recording 51.3% growth to 713,489 arrivals.

Some 385,259 visitors from all markets arrived in the first seven days of Lunar New Year (1-7 February). This comfortably exceeds the HKTB`s forecast of 360,000 arrivals for the New Year period and represents 31.7% growth compared with the equivalent holiday period in 2002 (12-18 February). Since the HKTB launched the International Chinese New Year Parade in 1996, this has become an increasingly popular time to visit Hong Kong for leisure travellers, especially those from the Mainland who now enjoy a week-long Golden Week national holiday at this time. Mainland arrivals for the first seven days of Lunar New Year totalled 246,686, a growth of 61.5% compared with the equivalent period in 2002.

Same-Day Visitors

In February 2003, 36.6% of all visitors continued to other destinations on the same day as arrival, a small increase on the 36.0% recorded in February 2002. Taiwan visitors tended to stay overnight less than others, only 23.8% doing so in February. On the other hand, 77.4% of visitors from both The Americas and Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific stayed for at least one night, as did 73.8% of visitors from South & Southeast Asia and 73.7% from Europe, Africa & the Middle East.

Hotel Occupancy

The average occupancy rate across all categories of hotels and tourist guest houses in February was 81%, compared with only 75% in February 2002. Hotels in the top tariff category made an especially strong recovery, averaging 76% occupancy compared with 68% a year earlier, while those at the next level achieved the best overall performance with 85%. For the first two months of 2003, average occupancy stands at 82%, compared with 78% over the same period in 2002.

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