HONG KONG—The number of mainland Chinese arrivals in Hong Kong over the Chinese New Year period stayed basically flat this season, the worst performance the city has seen in 20 years, according to the city’s Travel Industry Council.

According to figures from the Hong Kong Immigration Department 675,155 mainland visitors came to Hong Kong during the five-day period between Wednesday to Sunday. That’s down 0.16 percent from 676,297 visitors who came to Hong Kong during the comparable five-day holiday period a year ago.  The numbers provide another sign that the city is losing its status as the destination of choice for Chinese shoppers.

“Although it’s not a big drop, it raises an alarm because we’ve never seen such a situation over Lunar New Year,” said Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council. In recent years, growth was at double digits or close to double digits, he noted.  

“I think it’s sort of alarming that mainland visitors dropped. But I hope that Hong Kong people can continue to act as good hosts,” Tung said, adding that the protests earlier during the year put a dent in visitor numbers.

 

Chinese New Year is the biggest shopping season of the year and an important one to Hong Kong retailers. Chinese consumers are spending more and more outside of mainland China where prices of luxury goods are lower and Hong Kong has been a huge beneficiary of this trend. Indeed, the huge flood of mainland Chinese tourists in the already packed city has created tension between the city’s residents and Chinese visitors. 

Two months of pro-democracy protests, which started in late September, put a dent in luxury goods makers’ fourth quarter sales but market watchers say they expect an ongoing impact from the protests as Chinese travelers choose other locations such as Japan, South Korea or Europe. Visitors continued to come to Hong Kong during the protests namely because some trips had already been booked and paid for, but some expect visitor numbers to be affected in the future.

Hong Kong retailers are also being hurt by austerity measures and slowing growth in China. Per capita spending by overnight visitors – made up mostly by mainland Chinese visitors – declined 1.8 percent in 2014 from 2013, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

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