Hong Kong tourism numbers forecast to return to pre-Covid levels by end of 2025

Hong Kong tourism numbers forecast to return to pre-Covid levels by end of 2025

Visitors enjoy the sights at the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong on May 2, 2023. (Reuters photo)
Visitors enjoy the sights at the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong on May 2, 2023. (Reuters photo)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong's tourism numbers are projected to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2025, a year later than in neighbouring Macau, according to a new forecasting platform developed by a local university.

The programme also found that visitors to the city in December most enjoyed the culture and landscape but were unsatisfied with the food and climate.

Polytechnic University on Thursday unveiled its new “GBA Tourism Forecasting Platform”, a data analysis system for the Greater Bay Area. 

The bay area refers to the central government’s ambitious scheme to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province into an integrated economic and business powerhouse.

The hotel and tourism management school developed the platform, which is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and econometric models.

“The GBA is aiming to become a world leader, a leading [tourist] destination by 2035. However, there are still challenges facing the GBA after the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Haiyan Song, associate dean and chair professor of the school.

They included slow growth in the global economy, especially in mainland China, the effects of inflation on the cost of travel, and tourists’ behavioural changes.

“Accurate forecasts of tourism demand are crucial for policymakers and practitioners to be able to develop sustainable tourism strategies,” added Song, who led the platform’s development.

He said the platform could provide long- and short-term forecasts using government information publicly available, such as monthly incoming tourist numbers, as well as big data analyses by AI from websites such as Baidu, Google and Ctrip.

Song said according to the platform, Hong Kong’s incoming tourist numbers were projected to return to 2018 levels by the end of 2025, while 94 million visitors were expected in 2027. Most - nearly 75% - will come from the bay area.

Macau is predicted to make a full recovery in 2024 along with the other bay area cities.

In 2023, Hong Kong received 34 million tourists - 65% of the pre-Covid level - while Macau welcomed 28.3 million visitors, representing 71% of the 2019 figure

“Macau never [fully] closed to [mainland] Chinese visitors, apart from a few short periods of shutdown,” Song said.

“But for most of the time, it was still open, and therefore, the momentum has been built.”

The platform also found visitor sentiment on safety and culture in Hong Kong last month achieved a full score of 1, while sightseeing, entertainment, landscape and receptiveness of residents followed closely behind with scores of around 0.9.

However, aspects such as climate and perceived risk received low scores of around 0.2. The city’s food scene also only achieved 0.39, prompting Song to call for better service quality, especially for smaller restaurants

“The city has a very diverse catering industry, but as we all know at some businesses, the service is efficient but not very friendly … so that’s why the score is slightly lower,” he said

“Of course, the service quality in many places is very good. For example, hotels and airlines, many fine-dining restaurants, where the service quality is fabulous. It’s just some popular, smaller catering businesses.”

Shopping also achieved 0.69, with Song concluding the city’s retail scene remained attractive, despite industry grumbles that post-pandemic business had not bounced back as expected.

“Fewer people coming for shopping does not necessarily mean they are not happy,” he said.

“But then because of the behavioural changes, especially the younger generation, they are looking for more diversity in terms of tourism products and services.”

He added: “Keep up the good job, and you may attract a lot more people coming for shopping in the future.”

Jack Cheung Ki-tang, director of CTS HK Metropark Hotels Management, said the platform would be useful for the industry in predicting tourist behaviour in a time of change.

“It is clear at this point travellers nowadays are looking for very different things compared with before,” he said.

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