As Travel Revives, Report Predicts China Boom

Travel and tourism economy expected to grow more than 30 percent in 2004

By: Lisa Jennings

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 policy environment.”

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

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 report.

The council praised Hong Kong for having a comprehensive recovery plan ready the day that SARS-related travel advisories were lifted.

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 levels.

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 over 2002.

“We’re very excited,” said Bishop. “The rebound is happening quicker than we anticipated. It shows our programs are working.”

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 Angeles.

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 Cup.

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.

Road Shows

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