Visitor arrivals to Hong Kong exceeded 2 million in March for the first time since January 2020, provisional figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) have shown. It marked the first full month without any major Covid-related travel restrictions in place since the city’s borders closed in March 2020.

However, a 40 per cent shortage of staff in the aviation industry threatens the recovery of the tourism industry, sector representatives warned.

Mainland tourists To Kwa Wan Hung Hum tourism
Mainland Chinese tourists in Hong Kong on March 29, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Hong Kong recorded 2.45 million provisional visitor arrivals in March, 68 per cent more than the previous month. However, the number is still almost 42 per cent below that of March 2019, according to HKTB data.

Inbound visitor figures for the first quarter also remained significantly below pre-pandemic norms. Between January and March, the city saw 4.41 million visitor arrivals, just 30 per cent of the quarterly average from 2017 to 2019. Historically, the cooler months surrounding the Lunar New Year are Hong Kong’s peak season for tourism.

Arrivals from mainland China accounted for just over 80 per cent of total visitor figures for March. Tourists from long-haul markets – typically those who stay for longer than average and who tend to be higher spenders – made up about 5 per cent of March visitor arrivals, despite a boost from international cruise arrivals.

Tour operators focused on long-haul markets recently told HKFP that it would take more than free flights to lure such tourists back to the city after protests and the pandemic. In February, the government launched a multibillion dollar campaign, “Hello Hong Kong,” to try and re-establish the city as a tourism destination, part of which involved giving away 500,000 return flights.

Last Thursday, aviation industry representatives warned that Hong Kong would lose its status as an international air hub if it failed to attract more workers to the industry, RTHK reported.

The manpower shortage would be a major obstacle for Hong Kong’s post-pandemic recovery, head of the Airline Operators’ Committee, Walter Li, said.

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Mercedes is a Hong Kong-based British journalist with an interest in environmental and social issues. She has written for the Guardian and the BBC and previously worked at the South China Morning Post.