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Representatives from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong (BPA), tourism, retail, catering and transport industries today (October 19) met with the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung to follow up on the proposal to enhance the Individual Visit Scheme (IVS) and to discuss market stimulation measures.
Many countries have already introduced a variety of initiatives to attract more Mainland tourists. These included simplifying arrival procedures, providing multiple-entry visas, or even visa-free arrangements. In September, the BPA suggested that a new mechanism be put in place to attract more IVS visitors to Hong Kong. Under this proposed mechanism, the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security would oversee the issuance of online travel permits for the 20-odd million e-passport holders on Mainland China.
The BPA has consulted and since received positive feedback from stakeholders across different industries and the corresponding authorities on Mainland China regarding the proposed mechanism.
During the meeting with Mr Gregory So, BPA Vice-Chairman Mr Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung further suggested introducing a pilot scheme for Chinese e-passports holders in the 49 cities that were already covered by the IVS before eventually expanding the scheme to all e-passport holders in China. In the meantime, the Government could, in conjunction with the relevant Chinese authorities, look into adjusting the number and frequency of visitors according to Hong Kong’s tourism capacity.
The BPA and sectoral representatives also commented on the need to reform the IVS, which imposes considerable red-tape compared to other formalities that Mainland tourists were required to observe when travelling abroad. Mr Michael Wu Siu-ying, Chairman of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, noted that overnight visitor arrivals from Taiwan had increased by 7% since the adoption of online Pre-arrival Registration. The industry was however conscious of the limits of Hong Kong’s tourism capacity and the need to be sensitive to public sentiments. As such, it supported a gradual approach whereby the proposed enhancements would initially be applicable to the 49 Mainland cities covered under IVS and to progressively expand the measure across the country over time.
At the meeting, sectoral representatives also put forward ideas to stimulate the tourism market. Dr Simon Kwok Siu-man, Chairman of the Quality Tourism Services Association, referred to the continuing weakness in retail sales and was hopeful of government assistance and support in improving Hong Kong’s image. He added that the industry was contemplating a promotional campaign similar to “Happy@hongkong Super Jetso Offer”, which would provide a wide range of shopping discounts to attract high quality tourists.
Mr Michael Li Hon-shing, Executive Director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said that as there would be an upsurge in the number of additional hotel rooms over the coming years, the Government should actively target different visitor demographics to promote a steady inflow throughout the year. He added that as many students from the Mainland students would typically sit for international examinations in Hong Kong, the Government should seize the opportunity to reposition Hong Kong as the Asia-Pacific centre for international examinations.
Mr Matthew Wong Leung-pak, Chairman of the Public Omnibus Operators Association, said that both local and cross-boundary passenger arrivals had dropped significantly since March. As a result, some drivers were suffering from underemployment. He also expressed concerns about further declines in visitors from the Mainland.
Following the meeting, Mr Jeffrey Lam described the discussions as being productive and fruitful. He said the Government understood the operational difficulties experienced by the tourism and retail industries and that there were plans to launch more promotional campaigns during the coming festive seasons to cater to more diversified and broader markets. The Bureau had also undertaken to remain in close contact with the various sectoral representatives.