Chinese tourists carry shopping bags in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay shopping district, Sept. 21, 2015.
Chinese tourists carry shopping bags in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay shopping district, Sept. 21, 2015.

HONG KONG - Beijing has reportedly asked Hong Kong officials to present a plan for boosting tourism from mainland China following a 3 percent decline last year amid growing anti-mainland sentiment in the territory.

A plan for drawing tourists to Hong Kong could include cruises between the mainland and Hong Kong and an expansion of the number of cities from which people can travel to Hong Kong without joining a tour. Currently, residents of 49 mainland cities can travel to Hong Kong individually.

Hong Kong and Beijing officials have also discussed ways to limit tour groups that force people to shop in Hong Kong.

Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, said the mainland Chinese market is important to Hong Kong’s economy.

“China is a main market, and everyone, all over the world, is trying to induce or promote tourism from China to their countries,” he said.

The decline in mainland tourists is affecting Hong Kong’s economy, which is expected to grow 1 or 2 percent this year.

Raymond Yeung, a senior economist with ANZ bank, said the mainland tourists who continue to visit Hong Kong are spending less.

“The spending pattern of Chinese tourists has changed," he said. "They no longer think Hong Kong is the place to buy luxurious products. With the opening of individual visas for Chinese tourists to go to Europe, traveling on an individual basis, this trend will continue.”

Protesters and tents occupy the main road to the f
FILE - Protesters and tents occupy the main road to the financial district in Hong Kong, Dec. 9, 2014.

Fear of disturbances

Protests have also scared some mainland tour groups from visiting the city.

In 2014, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy umbrella movement filled the city’s streets for nearly two months to protest Beijing’s decision to vet all candidates for the territory’s top job. Since then, local groups have staged demonstrations against traders from the mainland who cross the border to buy Hong Kong goods that then will be resold back home.

In February, there was a violent riot in Mong Kok that injured dozens of people. The riot was sparked when police attempted to clear food stands during the Chinese New Year holiday. Protesters said they were demonstrating against the gradual erosion of Hong Kong local culture.

But even if protests ease in Hong Kong, the new Chinese middle class, with its rising discretionary income, may increasingly choose to travel elsewhere.

“A lot of the mainland tourists have been to Hong Kong many times, and they are all traveling farther, to Japan, Korea, Europe, the U.S.," said Mariana Kou, a retail analyst at the brokerage firm CLSA. "But at the same time, even without this expansion, the local government is putting out a number of initiatives to try to support the tourism sector, by putting out a number of products and expanding their festival circuit and number of events.”

Hong Kong authorities expect the number of tourists to drop another 2 percent this year.