Despite taking a beating from the Asian financial crisis and SARS, Hong Kong’s tourism industry has rallied in recent years, driven in large part by increased visits from mainland residents. The local hotel industry has responded with the openings of high-end luxury hotels as well as new three- and four-star establishments to meet the growing demand.
Opened in 2005, the Four Seasons Hotel and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental are finding that offering first-class accommodations attached to high-end shopping centers proves a powerful draw for both business and leisure travelers. Part of the International Financial Center (IFC) in Hong Kong’s Central District, the Four Seasons is receiving a steady flow of mainland guests.
“They are definitely one of our target client groups,” said PR manager Angela Wong. “As hotel guests, mainlanders are about on par with those from America, Europe, Russia and the Middle East. And they’re increasingly staying in suites, rather than deluxe rooms, and eating in our restaurants.
“Many Chinese travelers now have experience all over the world,” she noted. “You can see it in their mannerisms, in how they carry themselves.”
For big-name Hong Kong hotels, the brand power they are building among mainland visitors has given them the impetus to expand into the mainland itself. Langham Hotels International, for example, will open four hotels in the mainland in 2008 or early 2009, with two new properties in Beijing and one each in Shanghai and Changchun.
Experts cite strong business performance in Hong Kong and the mainland for driving up business travel, and stable economies for bringing in those seeking leisure. Bolstered by increased demand, the number of Hong Kong hotel rooms grew from 43,866 at the end of 2005 to 51,742 as of July 2007.
Although the average room occupancy rate dipped by two percentage points, this was countered by a slightly larger hike in room rates.
The effects are not only being felt at the high end. When the mainland first introduced the individual visitor’s scheme back in 2003, allowing mainland residents to visit Hong Kong as tourists without having to join tour groups, Hong Kong was worried its hotels would be overrun. But favorable policies have resulted in a myriad of new hotels in less-expensive areas in the New Territories and Kowloon.
With independent mainland tourists now largely outnumbering those coming in tour groups, Hong Kong Hotel Association chairman Mark Lettenbichler encouraged local hoteliers to respond to more sophisticated mainland guests.