HK ho­tels on cloud nine? Maybe not

Up­scale play­ers thrilled over book­ings de­spite dire warn­ing from main­land tour op­er­a­tors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK | BUSINESS - By LUO WEITENG in Hong Kong and ZHOU MO in Shen­zhen Con­tact the writ­ers at sophia@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

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.

JUSTIN CHIN / BLOOMBERG

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.

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