Two Chinese cities join Hong Kong travel scheme to boost tourism


FILE PHOTO: Fireworks explode over the Victoria Harbour on the second day of the Lunar New Year of the Dragon, in Hong Kong, China February 11, 2024. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo


HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Chinese cities of Xian and Qingdao have been added to a travel scheme that allows residents to visit Hong Kong in a personal capacity, rather than in a tour group, as the financial hub struggles to revive its economy post-COVID.

Tourism in the vibrant former British colony took a huge knock from sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 and a subsequent crackdown on dissent before the pandemic put the city in shutdown.

The “Individual Travel Scheme” began in 2003 as part of a cooperation agreement between mainland China and Hong Kong. It was initially launched in four cities in nearby Guangdong province before branching out to a total of 49 mainland cities in 2007.

Xian and Qingdao will be added to the list by March 6, meaning that residents of 51 Chinese cities will be eligible to apply for individual travel.

Officials have touted Hong Kong’s attractiveness as an international hub and are planning to hold large scale events including Art Basel in the coming months to lure visitors.

Leader John Lee said Hong Kong must be “relentless” to attract global musicians and entertainers after pop superstar Taylor Swift booked shows in other Asian cities but skipped Hong Kong.

Other acts such as Coldplay have also missed the city, performing instead in Taiwan and Bangkok.

Hong Kong Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said the new travel scheme would be a positive boost.

“Xian and Qingdao each have a population of over 10 million. We believe it can bring more high value added overnight visitors to Hong Kong,” he said in a statement.

More than 1.4 million tourists visited Hong Kong during the Lunar New Year holiday which began on Feb. 10, with 87% coming from mainland China.

An average of 157,000 mainland visitors arrived in Hong Kong daily, exceeding a level hit in 2018 before the pandemic.


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