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New Bridge and Pearl River Delta West (2): Tourism

After the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), Hong Kong will not only have direct land transport link with Zhuhai, but will find its land distance with Zhongshan and Jiangmen in the vicinity of Zhuhai greatly shortened. The HZMB will contribute to Hong Kong's economic and people-to-people links with western PRD. In order to assist Hong Kong companies in making early plans for development, HKTDC Research conducted preliminary studies in Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Jiangmen as well as Yangjiang which lies further west but is still within the HZMB's three-hour economic circle to explore business opportunities worthy of attention in western PRD thanks to easier accessibility.

More Hong Kong tourists head beyond Shenzhen

According to figures published by the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong, Hong Kong residents made 43.8 million trips to the mainland in 2013, of whom 93% were destined for Guangdong. Among those travelling to Guangdong, nearly half went to Shenzhen. However, there is a trend of fewer people visiting Shenzhen in recent years, with the number falling by 5% annually between 2009 and 2013. Meanwhile, the number of Hong Kong residents travelling to places in Guangdong other than Shenzhen has been on the rise over the same period, with the annual growth rate reaching 3.5%. These figures indicate that Hong Kong residents are showing a steady increase in interest in other destinations in Guangdong (including western PRD). According to some Hong Kong tour operators, short trips to western PRD (2-3 days) have always been popular among Hong Kong tourists.

Chart: Personal travels by Hong Kong residents to Guangdong (person-trips)
Chart: Personal travels by Hong Kong residents to Guangdong (person-trips)

Bridge opening provides further boost to tourism

From the experience of high-speed railways, the opening of the HZMB is set to give a further boost to tourism in western PRD and the more remote parts of western Guangdong. For example, after the opening of the Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway in December 2009, Shaoguan (which is home to the scene spot of Danxia Mountain) along this railway line attracted 15.82 million tourists (+29%) in 2010, with the number of overnight visitors growing by 265.4% to 215,000. Although enthusiasm has subsequently subsided somewhat, with the number of overnight visitors dropping in 2011 and 2012, the upward trend resumed in 2013, rising by 14.6% to 108,000, showing a significant increase of 83% compared with 59,000 person-trips before the opening of the high-speed railway in 2009.

Chart: Inbound overnight visitors of Shaoguan
Chart: Inbound overnight visitors of Shaoguan

The opening of the Xiamen-Shenzhen High-Speed Railway in December 2013 is another case in point. According to reports, high-speed train tour packages to cities such as Xiamen, Chaozhou and Shantou are well-received by Hong Kong tourists. During the Easter holidays in 2014, bookings for these tour packages tripled compared with the same period of last year. Hong Kong tour operators interviewed indicated that the opening of high-speed railways has stimulated Hong Kong people's interest in visiting the mainland. Although the initial hype usually subsides after a while, cities along these railway lines are still attracting more tourists than before the opening of rapid transit partly because easy accessibility has greatly shortened the travelling time. For example, while it took 4-5 hours to travel by bus from Shenzhen to Shaoguan, it only takes about two hours by high-speed train.

More flexible itineraries

According to Hong Kong tour operators, short-haul tours to western PRD (2-3 days) have always been popular. Most of these tours are by hydrofoil at present, passing through either Zhuhai or Macau. Hong Kong tourists join these tours mostly for leisure and thus have high demands for accommodation and food. Some of the tourist attractions in this region, such as the distinctive fortified dwellings in Kaiping, Jiangmen are very popular. The opening of the HZMB will make visits to these tourist spots more convenient. Of course it will still depend on the opening hours of the boundary crossing facilities, but there is no doubt that the bridge will give tourists much greater flexibility.

The opening of the bridge to traffic will make the planning of itineraries more flexible. For example, at present there are fairly regular ferry services to Zhuhai, but not so to the western PRD ports. Ferry schedules restrict the number of tourists. With the new bridge, the industry can overcome the constraint of ferry schedules. Travels between Hong Kong and western PRD will be more convenient after the opening of the bridge, making it possible to design more tour packages, such as one-day and one-and-half-day tours, even tours to more remote destinations like Yangjiang and Guangxi. Basically tour operators will consider destinations within three hours’ drive of Hong Kong.

Bridge likely to bring more travellers

Although bridge toll has not yet been finalised, it is reckoned that the average charge for passengers will be cheaper for coaches than for ferries. The opening of the bridge is expected to boost the number of independent travellers. According to some Hong Kong tour operators, relatively few Hong Kong independent travellers are heading for places in the more remote parts of western PRD and prefer visiting nearby cities like Zhuhai and Zhongshan. Although western PRD has lower living standards and should be attractive to tourists with its relatively inexpensive hotels, poor accessibility discourages tourists. It is reckoned that more convenient bus routes with fares cheaper than ferries that may become available following the opening of the bridge may fuel the interest of independent travellers. Western PRD may also give companies another possible destination for hosting regional business conferences, especially conferences lasting one or two days.

Opportunities for investment in tourist facilities

There are many tourist resources in western PRD. With the improved transport link that comes with the opening of the bridge, it is an appropriate time to further develop or re-organise new tourist routes. In terms of tourist resources, Yangjiang is a seaside resort with great potential. The city plans to develop seaside and hot spring resorts and national geological parks. The "Hailing Island-Dajiao Bay Maritime Silk Road" project will become a national 5A-class tourist destination, with beach resorts and the Nanhai One Museum as its main attractions. Hailing Island now has three 3-star hotels and one five-star (still being rated) hotel. What it needs most now is the development and management of relevant tourist facilities. According to the local department of tourism, Hailing Island has only opened up about a third of its beaches, most of which are public beaches. The local government is hoping to see greater diversification, including more upmarket hotels and facilities and upgrading the local tourist hotels. Thus, investment opportunities for potential tourist facilities are worthy of attention. Yangjiang has seen an increase in the number of overnight visitors from Hong Kong and Macau in the past few years, rising from 31,500 person-trips in 2009 to 43,900 person-trips in 2012.

The Zhuhai Hengqin New Area has also developed the eastern, southern and western sides of the Dahengqin Mountain into resort areas. Among these, Phase I of the Hengqin Chimelong International Ocean Resort has attracted over 6 million tourists and spurred the development of tourism in Zhuhai since its opening in early 2014. Phase II of the project is slated for completion and commencement of operation in early 2015, by which time the resort will have some 5,000 rooms for guests. Work on the new park of Chimelong will also commence in the first half of 2015.

Need to strengthen tourist facilities

Western PRD needs to beef up local tourist facilities to meet the needs of tourism development. Hong Kong tour operators are particularly concerned about parking facilities in various tourist attractions. Medical facilities are another factor that tour operators take into consideration when planning new itineraries. Convenient customs clearance procedures and parking facilities are also worthy of attention. The opening of the HZMB is expected to boost the planning of more long-haul itineraries, such as tours to Yangjiang. However, the destinations must have better tourism development plans and supporting facilities, such as more upmarket hotels, more tourist attractions, and better transport and publicity. Some of the more sedate tourist spots may consider including more diversified or interactive elements. The development of more tourist attractions will help tour operators design and launch multi-destination packages using the HZMB.

Possibility of complementarity between Zhuhai and Macau airports

In addition to more tourist routes, the bridge link may also boost the development of the Zhuhai Airport as a transit point between Hong Kong and other mainland cities and divert some of the tourists and tour groups currently setting off from the Shenzhen Airport. However, this will depend on whether the Zhuhai Airport can strengthen its feeder network and whether its prices are competitive. On the other hand, some tour operators also pointed out that the use of the Macau Airport to supplement international routes is also worthy of attention.

Content provided by Picture: Billy Wong
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