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Solo traveller scheme ‘to be expanded to allow tourists from Xian, Qingdao to visit Hong Kong on individual basis’

by Staff

Xian, a northwestern mainland city with a population of nearly 13 million, is home to the terracotta warriors and marks the start of the Silk Road. It served as the imperial capital for most of the Tang dynasty (618-907) and a cultural centre and hub for robust economic activity with neighbouring countries.

It will be the first time a city in Shaanxi province is included in the solo traveller scheme.

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With a population of about 10 million, Qingdao is one of the largest cities in Shandong and the second most populous province on the mainland. Previously, only Shandong’s Jinan was in the scheme.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Eric Chan Kwok-ki over the weekend said the government was in talks with mainland authorities to broaden the scheme to allow more residents of second- and third-tier cities to visit Hong Kong, with the possibility of a multiple-entry arrangement.

The Individual Visit Scheme, which allows residents of these cities to visit Hong Kong in their own capacity rather than joining tour groups, has been implemented in 49 mainland cities, many of which are first-tier ones, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing.

It was first introduced in four Guangdong cities in 2003 as a liberalisation measure under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between the mainland and Hong Kong.

Mainland tourists are known to be big spenders, drawn to the city’s wide range of luxury goods and duty-free shopping experiences.

Tourists at the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui. A potential expansion of a solo traveller scheme for mainland tourists could cover visitors from the cities of Xian and Qingdao. Photo: Jelly Tse

The proposal to broaden the solo traveller scheme comes as Hong Kong is looking to improve its slow economy with mega events to attract more tourists and encourage residents to stay in the city to boost local consumption.

Timothy Chui Ting-pong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, said Qingdao and Xian being added to the scheme would not be surprising.

“Qingdao is the biggest city in Shandong, while Xian is the biggest continental city in southwestern China leading to the Silk Road. It is very suitable to include both of them,” he said.

Chui also urged Hongkongers not to focus too much on whether tourists from the two cities would be budget travellers.

“Mainland tourists will be turned off by Hong Kong if the city continues with this picky attitude,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have enough visitors and we want more of them.”

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Tourism sector lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said the cities set to be added to the scheme were well chosen. He added residents would have a level of spending power and that many mainland cities were now well-developed, unlike in the past.

“A lot of mainland cities are no longer in the state they were in when we first launched the solo traveller scheme, the salary and development gap between different cities have been significantly narrowed, so appropriately adding more cities to the scheme will definitely bring benefits,” he said.

Yiu stressed he was not worried that Hong Kong would have a capacity issue stemming from the increased number of visitors, saying he did not expect the city to be suddenly swarmed by tourists following the expansion.

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Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said the hotel industry would welcome any scheme expansion because it would mean more business for the city’s hospitality and tourism sectors.

He added that how to properly plan and promote the city as a tourist destination without affecting residents’ daily lives would be authorities’ main challenge following the scheme expansion.

“Our next step is to figure out how to do tourism promotion and bring these economic benefits to Hong Kong without affecting people’s daily lives,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam

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