HK hotels on cloud nine? Maybe not
Upscale players thrilled over bookings despite dire warning from mainland tour operators
Having endured one of the steepest economic slumps seen in Hong Kong in decades, with tourism in a prolonged ebb that has seriously eroded the coffers of local hoteliers and retailers, some of the city’s top-notch hotels are now, seemingly, over the moon, trumpeting that their Christmas bookings have been beyond expectations.
Overall tourist arrivals, according to the latest figures for the past few months, have indeed been promising, with total arrivals in October posting a rise of some 12 percent to 4.95 million, against 4.42 million for the previous month.
Langham Hospitality Group (LHG), which runs a cluster of upscale hotels across the SAR, already has their Christmas bells tolling, saying that some of them are on the verge of full occupancy with Christmas just a few days away.
“With the continued efforts of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, we’re optimistic that the trend will continue into the New Year,” said an exhilarated Nathan Bacher, LHG’s vicepresident of revenue management.
“Traditionally, Christmas has been the peak season for hoteliers and tourism-related businesses in Hong Kong, with our members enjoying occupancy rates of up to 80 percent over the festive period,” said Lam Chi-ting, secretary-general of the Federation of Hong Kong Trade Unions in Tourism.
He noted that it was backed by robust international and individual Chinese mainland visitor numbers, but higher travel expenses brought about by a depreciating yuan have been counter-productive to the tourism business.
The five-star Royal Garden Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui also joined in the chorus, claiming that almost 80 percent of its rooms for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have been booked, and hopeful that it would enjoy full capacity at the start of the festive season.
Vice-President and General Manager Keven Chan said their room rates have seen 10-percent growth on year, reflecting that the city’s hospitality industry, as a whole, is beginning to exhibit signs of a recovery from a year ago and that the turnaround could continue into 2017.
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong in Central — one of Hong Kong’s oldest five-star hotels — told China Daily their rooms, as well as food-and-beverage outlets, are “well-occupied” this Christmas season.
Hotel clients have related an almost identical story, but added that prices have not gone up much from last year.
“I’ve booked a room for a Taiwan friend at ibis in North Point for a one-night stay on Saturday for HK$950. I had intended to find a room in Mong Kok, but two hotels I went to had been fully booked,” said Dorothy Fong, who works at a Japanese foreign trade company in Hong Kong.
But, she noted that rates have not climbed significantly as had been the case in previous Christmas seasons.
“Typically, the local tourism market appears to lack a boost to bring the situation back to normal in 2017. The business will remain flat as it is in 2016,” Lam said.
Some of the mainland ’s major tour operators have been rather candid, warning that there may not be a silver lining in the cloud, with stark projections that Hong Kongbound mainland tour groups may tumble by up to 50 percent year-on-year for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holiday breaks.
Wu Aiping, who’s in charge of organizing tours at Shenzhen Greatland International Travel Service, was equally apprehensive, cautioning that the number of Hong Kong-bound mainland tourist groups could drop by roughly 20 percent this Christmas from a year ago.
Zhang Yan, manager of Hong Kong and Macao tours with Shenzhen Air Tour, even went as far as to foresee a drastic 50-percent dive in the number of mainland tour groups to Hong Kong.
“The coming holiday period presents a worrisome problem based on our business estimates,” he said.
According to Zhang, mainland travelers had been taken in by the substantial shopping discounts on offer in Hong Kong during festive seasons in the past.
“But, now, a weakening yuan has substantially trimmed their urge for shopping, as well as buying power. Hong Kong is gradually losing its allure. And, the recent opening of Shanghai Disneyland, plus the negative impression exacted on Hong Kong following the recent chaos, have deterred mainland tourists,” he said.
In spite of the slight uptick in visitor arrivals in Hong Kong in October, total arrivals slipped 2.4 percent on year, while mainland tourist numbers declined 3.5 percent.
Some of Hong Kong’s plush hotels have reported brisk bookings in the run-up to the annual Christmas and New Year holiday season. The surprisingly high occupation rates are thought to have been backed by robust international and individual Chinese mainland visitor numbers despite the continued fall in the number of tour groups from the mainland, experts say.