Around 600,000 mainland Chinese visitors arrived in Hong Kong during the first four days of the “Golden Week” holiday. But more Hongkongers departed during the same period, with most of them heading north.

Crowds people National Day 2023 fireworks
Crowds watch a National Day fireworks display in Hong Kong, on October 1, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

According to the Immigration Department, over 1.14 million Hong Kong residents departed the city from last Friday to Monday, with nearly 74 per cent heading to mainland China via four land checkpoints and the West Kowloon express rail link.

The department does not reveal the destinations of people passing through the airport, ferry terminals and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, meaning that yet more could have travelled to China.

Meanwhile, 609,158 mainland Chinese visitors arrived in the city over the four days, with Sunday seeing 177,770 arrivals.

Tourism industry representatives previously estimated that around 1 million mainland Chinese visitors would come to Hong Kong during the eight-day National Day Golden Week holiday, the first since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. The estimation would be nearly 70 per cent of 2018 figures, but representatives said tourists may not spend big.

West Kowloon Station National Day
Tourists arrive at West Kowloon Station by high-speed rail on National Day, October, 1, 2023. Photo: Hans Tse/HKFP.

As one of the city’s pillar industries, the tourism sector has seen a slow recovery since the pandemic, with mainland Chinese arrivals picking up faster than international travellers.

Simon Wong, a businessman and chair of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants & Related Trades, said on RTHK in early September that the trend of Hongkongers spending weekends in mainland China was affecting local restaurants, although he said he understood that mainland cities such as Shenzhen provided good value-for-money experiences.

Figures, however, show the trend is not new. While 4.98 million Hong Kong residents departed for mainland China via different land checkpoints in July, the latest month for which statistics are available, the number was below the 5.9 million Hongkongers who travelled north in July 2018, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

west kowloon station high speed rail border reopening
West Kowloon station on Jan. 16, 2023, the first day of high-speed rail services between Hong Kong and the mainland resuming. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Wong added that he hoped the government’s campaign to boost the evening economy could help benefit local business. Authorities have recently launched a drive to promote night time consumption, setting up bazaars and encouraging shopping malls to provide discounts for after hours spending.

When asked about local outflow being lower than visitor arrivals over the holiday, the city’s leader John Lee said during a regular press conference on Tuesday that it was “normal” as Hong Kong people loved travelling.

“I believe that Hong Kong people are fond of travelling, therefore it is normal that Hong Kong people would depart [the city] when they have the chance. It’s a trend we need to face,” Lee said in Cantonese.

‘Night vibes’

Coinciding with Mid-Autumn Festival and Golden Week, Hong Kong launched its “Hong Kong Night Vibes” campaign in mid-September amid a weaker than expected economic outlook.

night market mid-autumn festival
Hong Kong marks Mid-Autumn Festival on September 29, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The campaign involves night markets – featuring food stalls and live music shows – during weekends on both sides of the Victoria Harbour, including at Wan Chai harbourfront, Sai Wan harbourfront, Kwun Tong harbourfront, and the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The night markets were first held last Friday to Monday. As part of the campaign’s second phase, the night markets will open from every Friday to Sunday until October 23, authorities said.

Ivan Wong, an auditor and chairperson of the Wan Chai District Council, said on RTHK on Tuesday that the city cannot rely on regular night markets to boost the economy as many tourists come to Hong Kong’s harbourfronts to enjoy the scenery, not to consume at night markets.

Wong added that the Wan Chai District Council suggested that authorities should not set up “so many stalls” at the Wan Chai harbourfront, and instead promote it as a place of leisure.

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Irene Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press and has an interest in covering political and social change. She previously worked at Initium Media as chief editor for Hong Kong news and was a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation serving the underprivileged. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Fudan University and a master’s degree in social work from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Irene is the recipient of two Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards and three honourable mentions for her investigative, feature and video reporting. She also received a Human Rights Press Award for multimedia reporting and an honourable mention for feature writing.