Hong Kong's tourism industry has experienced steady growth for the past decade and the trend looks set to continue, said Secretary for Economic Development and Labor Stephen Ip.
Speaking to China Daily on the eve of the special administrative region's 10th anniversary, Ip said: "Since the return, the close cooperation with the mainland, and the HKSAR government's steady investment in infrastructure related to tourism have contributed to the sector's stable growth, making tourism one of the major pillars of Hong Kong's economy."
He said spending on tourism had increased 53 percent from HK$7.78 billion ($995 million) in 1997 to HK$11.94 billion last year. Local people have been earning more from tourism as the sector increased its share of the local GDP from 2.6 percent in 1997 to 3.1 percent in 2005.
A record-setting 25.3 million people came to Hong Kong last year, compared with 11.3 million in 1997.
Both the long-haul and short-haul markets posted double-digit growth last year. The Australian segment grew by 75 percent, while the Southeast Asian segment grew by 64 percent.
Ip said more tourism infrastructure had been built, and between 2005 and this year, investment in tourism infrastructure exceeded HK$30 billion.
The new infrastructure included the construction of a new airport in 1998, "A Symphony of Lights" show in 2004, the launch of Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005 and the opening of the Hong Kong Wetland Park last year.
Ip attributed the recovery of the tourism sector after the dark period following the SARS outbreak in 2003 to the central government's Individual Visit Scheme (IVS), which was launched in July 2003 under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA).
"The IVS made visiting Hong Kong more convenient for mainland visitors and made the mainland the biggest market for Hong Kong's tourism," he said.
Last year, 13.6 million mainland visitors came to Hong Kong, six times more than the 2.36 million who came in 1997.
The mainland's share of the annual number of people visiting increased from 21 percent in 1997 to 54 percent last year.
The IVS has been extended to 49 mainland cities. As of April, about 2 million mainland visitors had traveled to Hong Kong under the IVS this year.
Other new measures have been put in place to boost tourism. Since January, Hong Kong travel agents have been offering tour services to Hong Kong and Macao in Guangdong.
However, "zero-fee" tours and forced shopping have sullied Hong Kong's reputation as a shopping paradise.
The SAR's image was also tarnished after CCTV aired a program showing that mainland tourists were regularly ripped off in Hong Kong. The government and private sector quickly came up with remedial measures. As a result of efforts by the China National Tourism Association and the HKSAR's government, mainland visitors increased by 30 percent during the May golden week holiday, Ip said.
(China Daily June 29, 2007)