Mainland tourists were willing to pay close to quadruple the normal rate for a hotel room in Hong Kong during the National Day “golden week” holiday, as the newly opened high-speed train link to the city created a sudden surge in last-minute bookings.
The new connection drastically cuts train travel times to Hong Kong from sites in neighbouring Guangdong province and further afield.
It now takes just 40 minutes to travel to Hong Kong from Guangzhou on the high-speed line, compared with three hours previously.
“Last-minute bookings are always more expensive. But when tourists are willing to pay such high room rates, it shows the market is doing extremely well,” said William Cheng Kai-ming, chairman of Shun Ho Property Investments, which owns and operates nine mid-tier Hong Kong hotels.
He cited the example of its Best Western Plus Hotel Kowloon in Tsim Sha Tsui, which took 14 bookings on October 3, checking guests in the same day for between HK$2,600 and HK$3,900 (US$332-498) per night, compared with the normal rate of HK$900-1,000.
Noting that he had been sceptical about how bookings might go before the holiday, given the 9 per cent slump in the value of the Chinese yuan and the fact that several new hotels opened their doors for business this year, he added: “Against all the odds, demand has way exceeded our expectations. We had a 100 per cent occupancy rate at most of our hotels this week.”
Cheng reckons around 80 per cent of tourist arrivals to Hong Kong during the holiday week were from mainland China, mostly travelling individually rather than in a tour group.
“Most [mainland tourists come to Hong Kong] from places within three hours’ travel. Average bookings were made two days in advance, compared with what’s normally about a month,” he said.
Over Victoria Harbour in North Point on Hong Kong Island, it was a similar story.
A spokesman for the sparkling new 671-room Hotel VIC there, which is owned by Sun Hung Kai Properties and only opened in early September, said it also saw a rash of late bookings.
“Some guests booked just two hours before they check in,” she added. “Nearly all our rooms were booked during golden week.”
The average price paid at the VIC was HK$1,700 per night, about 30 per cent higher than normal rates, and mainland arrivals accounted for half its guests in the period.
Zheng Ning-ming, 30, arrived in Hong Kong from Dongguang by coach on Tuesday. She and her husband planned to spend two nights in the city.
“We booked online a few days ahead of our arrival. It’s costing HK$2,000 per night for a tiny room in Causeway Bay. But we are lucky as many hotels were full,” she said, adding it had only taken an hour and a half to get there.
“We didn’t want to visit other mainland cities, as it gets really crowded everywhere.
“We enjoy shopping, watching movies and looking for good restaurants in Hong Kong. We also came for a Canton pop concerts in Hung Hom Coliseum,” she said.
Michael Li Hong-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said pre-bookings run at between 60 and 70 per cent before the week-long national holiday, which started on October 1.
But during that week they sat at 90 to 95 per cent occupancy rate, many made at the last minute, with some hotels reporting they were completely full.
“The travel patterns of tourists into Hong Kong are changing with the start of more transport choices, such as the high-speed train,” he said.
He expects the service to bring in visitors from further afield, too, than just Guangdong, including Fujian, Hubei, Hunan and Guangxi provinces.
MTR Corp, which also operates the city’s subway system, said more than 60,000 mainlanders used the new cross-border high-speed rail link on October 1 alone.
That is music to the ears of a tourism sector which only started to recover two years ago from a prolonged slump in Chinese visitors in the wake of Beijing banning “zero fee” shopping tours in late 2013, tightened visa requirements, and a weakening of the yuan.
The latest figures from Hong Kong Tourism Board show from January to August this year, arrivals jumped 10.4 per cent to 41.96 million, with 78 per cent of those mainlanders, an annual rise of 13.8 per cent.
In that time, 19.21 million tourists – 69 per cent of which were from the mainland – stayed overnight, a rise of 5.8 per cent, with the remainder same-day visitors. In fact, the average stay by tourists in Hong Kong dropped in 2017, from 3.3 nights to 3.2 nights.
Global property agency JLL’s hotels and hospitality group is now projecting Hong Kong will be Asia’s fastest-growing hotel market this year.
Its latest research shows the city’s revenue per available room – the hotel industry’s performance measure, or RevPAR – grew 12 per cent year-on-year to HK$1,196 in the year to August.
“This trend will continue throughout the year, resulting in Hong Kong recording the highest RevPAR growth among major regional hotel markets, which is estimated to be in excess of 10 per cent,” said JLL’s summary of the market.
Looking beyond this year, it remains positive the good times will continue, especially with the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge later this year.
“The new transport links will facilitate additional travel to Hong Kong and boost demand for hotels,” it added.
Hong Kong currently has nearly 80,000 hotel rooms. JLL is predicting the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of new hotel rooms coming on stream in Hong Kong will be 2.4 per cent until 2022, but that’s still below the 4.3 per cent CAGR enjoyed in the decade to 2017.
That slightly deflated target growth figure means less new hotel openings, commentators say.
But David Marriott, senior vice-president of JLL’s hotels and hospitality division, is confident the sector as a whole will continue growing.
“Whilst we are projecting growth across all segments, we expect that growth will initially be higher in the budget or mid-scale segment, not the upscale or luxury segment,” said Marriott.
“Hotel owners looking to best capitalise on this growth should be focused on active revenue and channel management as well as ensuring their properties are well maintained.”
That middle-of-the-road expansion has already prompted a flood of investment into Hong Kong’s hotel sector, with 17 hotel acquisitions completed since last year, worth a thumping HK$15.72 billion.
“During National Day, New Year’s Eve, Labour Day, Lunar New Year and Trade Fairs, guests will have to pay double or three times the normal rates,” adds Shun Ho’s William Cheng.
“But during the rest of the year, Hong Kong’s hotel rates will remain very reasonably priced.”