The number of mainland tourists who came to Hong Kong in the first five days of the Lunar New Year holiday fell this year for the first time in nearly 20 years, the head of the Travel Industry Council says.
Immigration Department figures showed that 675,155 mainlanders entered Hong Kong during the five days from Wednesday to Sunday, down 0.16 per cent from last year.
The latest figures have shocked experts in the sales and tourism sectors. They have said the lower numbers are because of the recent protests against mainland visitors. They also said many mainlanders now prefer Japan and Europe because currencies in those regions have been weak compared to the yuan.
A drop in mainland visitors would hurt Hong Kong's sales business and tourism, some analysts said. "It is the first time I have seen a drop during Chinese New Year. That is due to protests against mainland visitors," said Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council.
Tensions between Hongkongers and mainlanders have been growing for years as residents say mainlanders come to Hong Kong to buy essentials, like powdered baby milk formula. This means that these goods are much more difficult to buy or much more expensive for locals.
Earlier this month, more than 100 people protested in Sha Tin, chanting "mainlanders go back to the mainland".
Tung also said only about 400 tour groups came to Hong Kong on the second and third days of the Lunar New Year, compared to some 500 last year.