After months of decline, the number of U.S. visitors to Hong Kong
increased markedly in early September. And even though the most
recent figures for mainland China have continued to be down, a
report released this week said the country has the potential to
become one of the world’s great tourism economies.
“We believe that China will become a tourism economy like the
world has never seen,” said Jean-Claude Baumgarten, president of
the World Travel and Tourism Council.
“The Chinese government needs to prepare the groundwork for new
consumer demand, by facilitating the development of transportation
networks, infrastructure, tourism destinations, and a favorable
Noting that “significant structural barriers in China and Hong
Kong will inhibit the growth of travel and tourism,” the report
called on the government to make a number of policy changes,
including the creation of agencies with authority over the travel
industry, working more closely with the private sector and
reforming financial services to encourage investment. (The entire
report is posted at www.wttc.org.)
In 2004, travel and tourism economy in China and Hong Kong is
expected to grow 33.6 percent, followed by an annual growth rate of
nearly 11 percent each year over the next decade, which would make
China the fourth fastest growing travel and tourism economy in the
world, and Hong Kong the ninth fastest.
The impact of SARS on the region’s tourism was more extensive
than even the aftermath of Sept. 11, the report said.
“Both resulted in an almost complete business shutdown in terms
of travel and tourism and other economic sectors. But, while the
shutdown in the USA was measured in days and weeks, that in China
and Hong Kong has to be measured in months.”
In China, the direct and indirect loss to the gross domestic
product this year is expected to total $20.4 billion. In Hong Kong,
the estimated loss totals $3.6 billion, according to the
The council praised Hong Kong for having a comprehensive
recovery plan ready the day that SARS-related travel advisories
And the plan appears to be working. Hong Kong officials report
ed that 47,285 U.S. visitors arrived in Hong Kong between Sept.1
and 20, the most recent figures available.
In 2002, 44,481 U.S. visitors arrived in Hong Kong during the
same period, an increase of 6.3 percent, although year-to-date
numbers still show an overall decline of 39.5 percent.
At the height of the SARS outbreak in May, the number of U.S.
visitors to Hong Kong dropped about 80 percent below 2002
The rebound began in August, when tourism levels crossed over
into positive figures, said Lillibeth Bishop, spokeswoman for the
Hong Kong Tourism Board. And, when numbers are in for the whole of
September, officials say they expect to see an even larger increase
“We’re very excited,” said Bishop. “The rebound is happening
quicker than we anticipated. It shows our programs are
The statistics for mainland China do not reflect the recovery,
which will likely show up in numbers for September and October,
said Yan Wang, director of the China National Tourist Office, Los
Year-to-date figures through July, the most recent available,
showed a 40 percent decline in U.S. arrivals over the same 2002
period. But government officials said they don’t expect a full
recovery until next year at the earliest.
Elsewhere in Asia, reports were mixed.
U.S. visitors to Korea were up 5.2 percent in August over the
same month last year, though year-to-date arrivals were down about
12 percent, said Monica Poling, marketing manager for the Korea
National Tourism Organization.
Officials there, however, didn’t expect to match the record
numbers from 2002, when Korea was co-host to the soccer World
In Thailand, U.S. arrivals were down 13.5 percent for the year
through July, compared with the same period in 2002.
In Malaysia, January-through-July figures show a drop of 19.4
percent over last year.
And Macau’s year-to-date figures through August show a decline
of 35 percent over the previous year, through August alone is only
8 percent below the same month in 2002, and the number of U.S.
arrivals appears to be increasing.
The Extraordinary Asia Travel Association, which includes China,
Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Macau, the Philippines, Taiwan and
Thailand, has scheduled road shows throughout the Western states
over the next two months. Travel agents in any of the following
cities are invited to the free breakfast seminars. Reservations:
323-634-0280, ext. 224
Oct. 28: Doubletree La Posada, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Oct. 29: Sheraton Old Town, Albuquerque, N.M.
Oct. 30: Doubletree Guest Suites, Houston
Oct. 31: Doubletree Hotel Campbell Center, Dallas
Nov. 4: Doubletree Downtown, Portland, Ore.
Nov. 5: Doubletree Guest Suites, Seattle
Nov. 6: Radisson Miyako Hotel, San Francisco
Nov. 7: Hilton Salt Lake, Salt Lake City