All business is politics in China – This words of wisdom are currently proven true again with regard to China’s outbound tourism.
The years 2015 to 2017 were bad years for the destinations of Greater China (Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) with regard to arrivals from Mainland China. The SARs suffered losses in 2015 and 2016, getting somewhat out of fashion, and could in 2017 just claw back to more or less the arrival levels of 2014. Taiwan suffered from May 2016, when the Beiijng government reacted to political developments on Taiwan and recommended restrictions for package group tours to Taiwan, which resulted in a dramatic decrease of such groups being organised. 2018 saw a recovery for the SARs and at least a halt of the decrease in arrivals for Taiwan.
In the first half of 2019, the numbers of Mainlanders visiting Greater China jumped up. Hong Kong welcomed close to 24 million arrivals, three million more than in the first half of 2018, representing a YoY growth of 13%. Macau received more than 13 million (YoY +22%) Mainland visitors, partly driven by the new bridge and the new Hispeed rail connection. Taiwan even enjoyed a YoY growth rate of 44% with almost 900,000 arrivals from across the Taiwan Strait. By the end of May it appeared possible that for 2019 Greater China would get back to a share of 50% of the total Mainland China outbound travel market.
Alas, in Hong Kong the time of unrest started in early June, making the SAR less attractive for Mainland visitors. The total arrival numbers for June still increased by 14%, but a closer look reveals that the overnight visitor numbers increased by just 2%. For July, according to anecdotal evidence from Hong Kong, there has been a decline in the arrival numbers. Some sources reported a 10% decline in Mainland travel group arrivals for the first half of July. The already previously existing anxiety of Mainland travellers to be less than welcomed by the local Hong Kong population will increase and negatively influence travel decisions for the rest of the year, even if the protests might stop in the coming months.
For Taiwan, a bolt out of the blue hit the Taiwanese tourism industry with the announcement that from August 1st no Chinese individual tourists would be allowed to travel to Taiwan anymore “temporarily”. Ever since the scheme of allowing residents of a growing number of cities in China to travel without a tour operator to Taiwan started in 2011, FITs from Mainland China have been a major source of income for the island’s tourism service providers. Many observers fear that the “temporary” ban might well last until the elections in Taiwan in January 2020.
Therefore for both Hong Kong and Taiwan the second half of 2019 will look much more gloomy than could be expected just a few weeks ago. Macau might become a benefactor of this development, as might be South Korea and Japan. Overall, the fact that such a policy change can be announced to come into effect with 48 hours notice will not only leave many FITs stranded with air tickets and hotel bookings they cannot use anymore, more importantly it will remind the tourism industry around the world about the specific volatility of the Chinese outbound tourism market.
For all our readers, COTRI WEEKLY wishes a peaceful and profitable week.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt