Hong Kong’s tourism chief says lifting health declaration unlikely to lead to dramatic surge in cross-border travel to mainland China

Travel numbers north of Hong Kong are unlikely to fluctuate significantly when mainland China lifts its health declaration policy, a city official said, while pledging to upgrade a cruise terminal and capitalize on emerging trends to support the tourism industry.

Culture, Sports and Tourism Secretary Kevin Jung Yoon Hong said on Monday he believed the decision to remove a health declaration form allowing travelers to cross the border using a QR code known as a “black code” from Wednesday would not to have no effect on the number of people heading north.

“I don’t think many people are deterred from going to the mainland because of the black code. They travel there based on what’s attractive,” he said on a radio program.

Mainland customs officials introduced the policy in January 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the requirement covering all inbound and outbound passengers.

The latest Covid-19 restriction on travel between Hong Kong and mainland China has been lifted

The minister’s remarks come amid local efforts to encourage more mainlanders to visit Hong Kong and concerns that a growing number of the city’s residents are opting to cross the border during public holidays in search of bargain retail prices.

Immigration data showed more than 459,000 Hong Kong residents traveled north using land checkpoints over the weekend. The figure is more than double the number of mainland visitors who came to the city during the same period.

As part of efforts to support local industries, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu last week in his second policy address announced an action plan to develop the cruise tourism economy by next June.

Yeung said on Monday that authorities will study how to expand the commercial space at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and whether they need to review the site’s functions in the first half of next year.

The facility was originally developed to accommodate larger cruises that could not dock at the ocean terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, the tourism chief explained.

Culture, Sports and Tourism Secretary Kevin Yeung has pledged to capitalize on emerging travel trends to support the local tourism industry. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Cruise terminal operator Kai Tak said in August that the site’s primary purpose was as a port of arrival and temporary stop for passengers to embark and disembark, and rejected a more retail-friendly redevelopment.

Yeung on Monday said all 53,820 sq ft of the terminal’s retail space had been leased and the authority would review whether areas such as the rooftop garden could be used for temporary weekend markets, as well as potentially consider how to convert the place in a place for exhibitions.

“The terminal has hosted conferences and exhibitions for the past few years and this is one of the main directions of development to make the most of its space,” he said.

The minister also said the government’s intervention has ironed out past transport problems at the terminal when earlier passengers had to wait for an hour to get a taxi.

Thousands return to Hong Kong after enjoying good deals in ‘hassle-free’ Shenzhen

Yeung said that by next year, authorities will also revise the 2017 development plan for the tourism industry to catch up with post-pandemic trends.

Mainland tourists previously flocked to Hong Kong to spend on retail goods and visit traditional hotspots, but are now turning to cultural sites and neighborhoods that offer a glimpse into the local way of life, he explained.

“We want to discuss with the industry how we can incorporate new elements or features to enhance the types of tourism, such as heritage tourism, or to promote our country parks, marine life and night skyline.”

Yeung said more tourists are visiting local establishments such as cha chaan teng, famous Hong Kong-style coffee shops, which can help boost business for smaller shops and encourage people to invest or move to the city in the long term.

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