Low-budget Chinese travelers highlight shift in Hong Kong tourism

By Reuters   May 5, 2024 | 11:10 pm PT
Low-budget Chinese travelers highlight shift in Hong Kong tourism
Laura Li poses for photos in front of Victoria Harbour, a day ahead of the Chinese Labour Day 'Golden Week' holidays, in Hong Kong, China, April 30, 2024. Photo by Reuters
Cost-conscious Chinese tourists have replaced many of the cash-rich mainland travelers who once flocked to Hong Kong, with some only interested in free walking tours of the city and staying across the border in Shenzhen overnight to save money.

During China's Labor Day holiday last week, Laura Li, 28, and her cousin Diego Deng, 20, from northeastern Liaoning province, were among the younger visitors to Hong Kong who preferred to follow walking guides on social media rather than join tour groups or shop in luxury stores.

The Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu, also known as Little Red Book, is the must-have app for China's Generation Z - the 280 million people born between 1995 and 2010 - to explore Hong Kong neighborhoods and offers travel tips to tourists.

"Personally, I don't like to be with tour groups because the degree of freedom is too low," Li said outside the Yau Ma Tei Police Station, a neo-classical Edwardian-style building that has featured in local TV dramas and films and is popular with mainland tourists.

"I prefer the kind of aimless city walk."

Daniel Leung, an assistant professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University's school of hotel and tourism management, said the shift in travel and spending habits was mainly due to a slow economic recovery in mainland China.

"The China economy's recovery speed was not as good as we expected. When people utilize their disposable income, they now become more cautious," Leung said.

The low-budget travelers coming to Hong Kong from mainland China contrast with the once cash-rich and luxury-spending mainland tourists who used to visit the city in the years before the pandemic.

Coupled with a surge in Hong Kong people traveling to the mainland for shopping and entertainment, where many say products and food are cheaper and the service is better, the financial hub is struggling to bounce back after a three-year Covid-19 lockdown.

Catering sector representative Simon Wong told local media that restaurants saw 10% less business than usual during the May 1 public holiday, traditionally a busy period for Hong Kong.

Underscoring the now cost-conscious new type of mainland tourist, Li and her cousin opted to stay in a hotel in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, just across the border, and travel back to Hong Kong to take in the sights during the day.

"For the same price, I can stay in a hotel in Shenzhen with a better environment, more space, and better service. It only took me around one hour to arrive here," Li said.

She said they spent about HK$500 ($63.97) on transport, a ticket for the ferris wheel overlooking Victoria Harbor and food.

One of the best pieces of advice on Xiaohungshu, Li said, was to take bottles of water across the border into Hong Kong as that was also cheaper.

"I found out that the water that sells for one dollar in the mainland is sold for 10 dollars here."

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