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Individual Visit Scheme

The Individual Visit Scheme (Hong Kong/Traditional Chinese:自由行, Mainland/Simplified Chinese:个人游) was started on July 28, 2003, to allow travellers from mainland China to visit Hong Kong on an individual basis. The tourism industry in Hong Kong benefited from the scheme as a result.

Prior to the Scheme, Mainland residents usually could only travel to Hong Kong on business visas or in group tours.

The outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong from March to June 2003 resulted in a sharp drop in the number of both Mainland and overseas visitors, to a level that was unprecendently low in recent years. The tourism industry was adversely affected.

The main reason for launching the Individual Visit Scheme was to boost the economy of Hong Kong. Under the initial stage of the scheme, citizens of Beijing, Shanghai and 8 Guangdong province cities (Dongguan, Foshan, Guangzhou, Hongshan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Shenzhen and Zhuhai) could apply for visas to visit Hong Kong individually. The visas, issued by the Public Security Bureau of the People's Republic of China, were valid for 7 days and could be applied again upon returned return from Hong Kong to the Mainland.

The Scheme brought about an immediate surge in the number of mainland visitors. In the short period from July 28 to November 4, 2003, over 600,000 individuals in the Mainland applied for visas and 450,000 visas were issued.

October 1 Golden Week

October 1 Golden week was the period from October 1 to October 7, 2003. Since October 1 is the National Day of the People's Republic of China, more mainlanders would visit Hong Kong during the holiday. This holiday drew 287,000 mainland visitors to Hong Kong, including 80,000 to 90,000 individual travellers. During the Golden Week, the hotel occupancy rate reached 75% to 80%. The Mass Transit Railway Corporation organised promotional programmes at Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay and Maritime Square in Tsing Yi during the National Day holiday.

In addition, the Government of HKSAR has adopted a number of measures to deal with the large influx of individual visitors. At the Lo Wu border crossing, there was an increase in the number immigration officers on duty, and the time for checking in was reduced. Besides, the number of KCR trains departing from Lo Wu was increased in order to prevent congestion. In addition, visitors from Shanghai and Beijing were encouraged to travel by planes. This could prevent congestion in Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chou.

Economic Impact

According to the statistics released by the Immigration Department, the ratio of individual travellers from the mainland has risen from 5% to 16.8% within the period between August and October. In October, 148,000 of the 878,000 mainland travellers were individual travellers. The number of mainland travellers is predicted to increase continuously over the next few months.

Tourism is a reflection of the economy. The increase in the number of mainland tourists greatly benefits the economy of Hong Kong and it also shows that the economy is on an upward track. Average occupancy rate across all categories of hotels and tourist guest houses in September 2003 was 82%, the same as that in September 2002. This encouraging performance was spread across different types of hotels, with the top tariff hotels achieving 81% occupancy and those of medium tariff recording 83%. The average achieved room rate was HK$ 684, the highest figure since April in 2003, although this is still 2.8% below the comparable rate for September 2002.

The Government has set up an Economy Relaunch Campaign, which includes raffles, the Lantau Festival and Individual Visits to give extra resources to revive the economy. These enhance the appeal of the Individual Visit Scheme.

"As the scheme is attracting a large number of mainlanders to Hong Kong, it created a "positive by-product" to attract overseas travellers to visit Hong Kong," said Miss Kinnie Wong, the Assistant commissioner of the Tourism Commissioner. She noted that tourists from overseas markets such as the United States and Australia may feel safe visiting Hong Kong again in this coming winter or during the Chinese New Year.

"The Individual Visit Scheme has both long term and short term effects to Hong Kong" said Vanessa, an economist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

It has been suggested that more and more mainlanders coming to Hong Kong will lead to the authorised saving of renminbi in Hong Kong. This change enables mainland travellers to get access to money more easily when they need it. As a result, it will be more convenient for them to shop and trade in Hong Kong. Besides, the simplicity of the visa application process makes it beneficial. Since people are usually not willing to perform complicated procedures to apply for visas before visiting another place, the Individual Visit Scheme helps encourage visitors to Hong Kong. These two effects are considered long term ones.

She also pointed out that women joining the Individual Visit Scheme come to Hong Kong because they want to purchase brand name products. An individual traveller, Mrs Chiu, said that the brand name products in Hong Kong are of more variety and much cheaper when compared with other foreign countries.

As a short term effect, there will be a rise in the employment rate and investment. Owners of shops or companies can foresee this vital trend and employ more people so as to meet the needs of the influx of mainland travellers.

The Secretary of the Economic Development and Labour Bureau, Mr. Stephen Ip, announced that 300,000 mainlanders who had applied the individual visas had not yet come to Hong Kong. He predicted that many of them would come to Hong Kong in the coming winter.

Social Impact

Miss Kinnie Wong noted that individual visitors who commit crimes in Hong Kong were rare. The number of individual visitors who were arrested was 17 between August and September. Among those arrested, 8 were due to prostitution. When compared to the total percentage of arrested mainland visitors, it remains a low rate.

Mr. Chan Wing-Kai, the Head of the Consumer Complaints & Advice Council said, "The percentage of complaints made by individual visitors is 9.3% which is relatively low." The number of complaints made by individual visitors up to October is around 50. Many cases were due to misunderstanding such as difference between consumer cultures.

One of the complaints was that some visitors complained that they were charged unfairly when having seafood in Sai Kung. However, it is a common practice in Hong Kong that the price of bought seafood is separated from the cooking cost whereas in China this is considered as cheating.

See also: Tourism in Hong Kong

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