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Hong Kong Sees Record 39.6 Million Visitors in 2011

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(Corrects year in headline.)

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong may draw a record 39.6 million visitors this year, six times more than Australia, driven by an increasing number of people from China, according to the city’s tourism board.

About 10 percent more visitors will arrive in Hong Kong than in 2010 as the world emerges from recession, James Tien, the tourism board chairman, said in the city today. Chinese visitors are likely to increase by 12 percent, while growth from other markets will be about 8 percent, he said.

Arrivals from China jumped 26 percent to 22.7 million in 2010, boosting the total to a record 36 million, according to the tourism board. That’s bolstering sales for retailers including Chow Sang Sang Holdings International Ltd. and Emperor Watch & Jewellery Ltd. as tourists buy diamonds, comestics and watches.

“Visitors from mainland China are the highest-spending group,” Donna Kwok, economist at HSBC Holdings Plc, said in Hong Kong today. “Our forecast of as much as 5 percent gain in yuan’s value by year end will empower them to buy and shop because of rising purchasing power.”

The yuan is forecast to strengthen 4.5 percent this year to 6.30 per dollar, based on the median of 25 estimates in a Bloomberg survey of analysts.

Tourist Spending

According to the tourism board, spending by visitors jumped 30.5 percent in 2010 to HK$212.6 billion ($27.3 billion) from a year earlier. Hong Kong’s retail sales rose 18.5 percent in December, after unemployment fell and more tourists arrived from China, the government said Feb. 1.

An easing of restrictions on residents in Shenzhen, southern China, in visiting neighboring Hong Kong in December may encourage more Chinese tourists this year.

The new Shenzhen rules, which removed the condition that migrant workers must return to their home provinces to seek visas, would help about 4 million workers to travel directly to Hong Kong through the individual visit program.

Visitors from mainland China to Hong Kong, a former British colony of 7 million residents, during the country’s Feb. 2-8 holiday period increased 16 percent to 663,000, surpassing last year’s 570,000, according to data from the Hong Kong Immigration Department.

Total arrivals to Hong Kong were three times higher than the 11.6 million tourists to Singapore last year and compare with the 5.9 million to Australia, according to the countries’ tourism boards.

The effects on Hong Kong’s economy of rising numbers of tourists from China will be ongoing, Kwok said. Retail sales in the city grew 18.3 percent in 2010 from a year earlier, the government said this month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sophie Leung in Hong Kong at sleung59@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Panckhurst in Hong Kong at ppanckhurst@bloomberg.net