Hong Kong records 604,564 visitors in 2022 as tourism begins slow recovery

Number of visitors to Hong Kong last year marks sixfold increase from 91,000 logged in 2021.

Hong Kong’s pandemic-battered tourist sector showed signs of recovery in 2022 when the number of visitors increased more than sixfold to 604,564 from the year before, with more than half of travellers coming from mainland China.

Last year’s figure was an improvement on the about 91,000 arrivals logged in 2021, with the figures for November and December in 2022 respectively standing at 113,763 and 160,584, the city’s Tourism Board said on Monday.

The number of visitors last October was 80,524, with an economist attributing the uptick in subsequent months to the government’s decision to lift its quarantine and later medical surveillance requirements for travellers, as well as most testing rules.

Travellers from across the border made up a large share of last year’s total figure, with 375,144 arrivals coming to Hong Kong from the mainland.

While Hong Kong and the mainland also resumed quarantine-free travel from January 8, Gary Ng Cheuk-yan, a senior economist with Natixis Corporate and Investment Bank, said he believed the industry and wider economy were unlikely to undergo a meaningful recovery in the near term.

“The border with the mainland has fully reopened, but there are still quotas and tests put in place that do not fully encourage mainlanders to come here at the moment,” he said.

The MTR Corporation in the evening announced it would increase the number of available cross-border high-speed train tickets to 7,000 per day in each direction. The new quota will take effect from Tuesday.

Under the current cross-border entry regime, 50,000 people each day, going either way, can travel through the four other available land ports.

Most of the quota is allocated to travellers using the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line crossing, with 10,000 each allowed to pass through Shenzhen Bay checkpoint and Man Kam To every day.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge can only accommodate 1,000 travellers using private cars and cross-boundary hire-car services.

The government will increase the daily quota to 65,000 in the four-day run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday.

Ocean Park chairman Paulo Pong Kin-yee, meanwhile, said the venue was gradually recovering from the pandemic after the number of visitors reached its highest level since last April. He stopped short of providing the figure.

The park’s operators also planned to hire 350 more full-time employees to prepare for a rise in visitors, Pong added.

Government figures also showed a surge in the number of travellers handled by the city’s airport, with the facility logging 5.7 million passengers in 2022, accounting for an increase of 318.4 per cent compared with the year before.

For December alone, the Airport Authority recorded 1.6 million passengers, a ninefold increase from the same period in 2021.

But the airport’s total cargo throughput in 2022 dropped 16.4 per cent year on year to 4.2 million tonnes, while flight movements fell 4.2 per cent.

Hong Kong previously held the position of the world’s busiest international cargo airport between 1996 and 2021.

Economist Ng attributed the dual declines to weak global demand on the back of inflation issues in the United States and the European Union, adding he did not expect the situation to recover until the middle of next year.

Fred Lam Tin-fuk, the authority’s CEO, said: “The airport endured another challenging year in 2022 as the impact of the pandemic continued … Nevertheless, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel when the government relaxed travel restrictions.”

While the government figures for visitor arrivals suggested the tourism sector was slowly recovering, challenges have remained for the industry as Hong Kong and the mainland navigate their wider rollback of anti-epidemic restrictions.

HK Express, a budget unit of Cathay Pacific Airways, on Monday revealed it would cancel select flights between Hong Kong and Japan spanning February 1 to 16 in light of restrictions implemented by the latter.

The number of tourists arriving in the city was also far below the pre-pandemic level of 55.9 million logged in 2019.

However, cruise ships are once again set to dock in Hong Kong after avoiding port there since last July. Silversea Cruises’ liner Silver Spirit is set to arrive in the city on Wednesday following stopovers in Thailand and Vietnam.

Resorts World Cruises also said its first ship would use Hong Kong as its homeport from March 10, with the company to offer two and three-night itineraries and departing the city every Friday, Sunday and Wednesday on a weekly basis.

On the coronavirus front, the city on Monday recorded 4,653 new infections, 124 of which were imported, and 50 more deaths. Hong Kong’s tally stands at 2,836,370 cases and 12,863 related fatalities.