Saturday, July 13, 2024

8 more Chinese cities join Hong Kong solo travel scheme

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Eight Chinese cities have joined a program allowing their residents to travel to Hong Kong on their own, rather than as part of a tour group, as part of efforts to boost Hong Kong’s economy.

Hong Kong is battling to revive its economy following a national security crackdown and COVID-related controls, which led to many locals and expats leaving the city and caused tourist numbers to dwindle to a fraction of prepandemic levels.

The Individual Visit Scheme began in 2003 as part of a cooperation agreement between mainland China and Hong Kong to boost the city’s economy by allowing Chinese residents to apply for individual travel, rather than in a tour group.

Fifty-one cities have already joined the program and will be joined by Taiyuan in Shanxi Province, Hohhot in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Lanzhou in Gansu Province, Xining in Qinghai Province, Yinchuan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Hong Kong city leader John Lee said, “These eight cities are all provincial capital cities with large populations, significant economic growth and high spending power.”

Although recent official figures showed the territory growing 2.7% in the first quarter compared with the year before, local businesses have described shopping malls as “dead,” with low foot traffic and shops covered with “for lease” or “coming up soon” signs.

One lawmaker recently told the city’s legislature that more than 20,000 companies had deregistered in the first quarter of 2024, up more than 70% from the same period last year.

China imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019. In March, authorities enacted another set of security laws that some foreign governments say further undermine rights and freedoms.

The Hong Kong and Chinese governments have repeatedly said the security laws have brought stability.

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