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Xian, Qingdao residents now enjoy Hong Kong travel via Individual Travel Scheme.

Photo: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg

Hong Kong is ushering in a significant development in its tourism landscape by extending the scope of the "Individual Travel Scheme" to include residents from Xian and Qingdao. This expansion, set to be effective by March 6, marks a pivotal move in the city's endeavors to stimulate its economy following the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The "Individual Travel Scheme" was initiated in 2003 as part of a collaborative agreement between mainland China and Hong Kong. Initially covering four cities in Guangdong province, it later expanded to encompass a total of 49 mainland cities by 2007. Now, with the inclusion of Xian and Qingdao, the scheme's reach extends to 51 cities, providing residents the opportunity to visit Hong Kong independently rather than as part of organized tour groups.

The decision to include these two cities in the scheme is noteworthy, given the economic implications for Hong Kong. The city has been grappling with the aftermath of the 2019 pro-democracy protests and subsequent crackdowns on dissent, compounded by the economic impact of the pandemic-induced shutdown. This strategic move aims to breathe new life into Hong Kong's tourism sector, positioning it as an attractive destination for travelers seeking independent exploration.

Hong Kong officials have been actively promoting the city's international allure and are gearing up for large-scale events, including the prestigious Art Basel, to draw visitors. Despite challenges in attracting global music and entertainment acts, officials remain determined. Hong Kong's Chief Executive, John Lee, emphasized the need for relentlessness in attracting international talents, particularly after notable artists like Taylor Swift chose other Asian cities over Hong Kong.

Xian and Qingdao, each boasting populations exceeding 10 million, are expected to contribute significantly to Hong Kong's tourism revival. Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's Secretary for Culture, Sports, and Tourism, expressed optimism about the potential impact of the extended travel scheme, anticipating an influx of high-value visitors.

Recent tourism trends during the Lunar New Year holiday underscore positive signs, with over 1.4 million tourists visiting Hong Kong, predominantly from mainland China. Daily arrivals of over 157,000 mainland visitors surpassed pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2018. This suggests a promising trajectory for Hong Kong's tourism industry and aligns with the objectives of the extended "Individual Travel Scheme" to attract diverse and valuable visitors, fostering economic rejuvenation.

Feb. 24, 2024 4:29 p.m. 2049

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