Hong Kong mulls restrictions on Chinese tourists following public backlash

Mainland Chinese visitors rest outside a shop at a shopping district in Hong Kong on Feb 24, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Mainland Chinese visitors rest outside a shop at a shopping district in Hong Kong on Feb 24, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's leader said on Tuesday that the government is looking to restrict the number of Chinese tourists entering the city, following a public backlash over the influx of mainland visitors.

The announcement came after a leading travel body said official figures showed the volume of mainland visitors over the Lunar New Year period fell for the first time in almost 20 years - attributing the trend to the frosty reception they receive.

"We will continue to speak with Chinese authorities about whether or not there is space to tighten the (visitor) scheme to be able to control the natural trend of increasing mainland visitors in Hong Kong," the city's leader Leung Chun Ying said.

Leung said the growing number of Chinese visitors has "put pressure on the everyday life of Hong Kong residents".

Residents from 49 Chinese cities can currently apply for a multi-entry travel permit to visit Hong Kong.

Leung said that scheme would not be expanded and that he would raise the issue at the next meeting of the National People's Congress - China's parliament - at the beginning of March.

Hong Kongers have grown increasingly angry at the number of Chinese traders who travel to Hong Kong's border towns to stock up on everything from iPads to milk powder.

Protests against the traders have led to violent clashes over recent weekends, with police using pepper spray.

The semi-autonomous southern city of seven million people is also a favourite shopping destination for wealthy mainland visitors eager to stock up on Western luxury brands.

Mass democracy protests at the end of last year also showed building anti-China sentiment, with tens of thousands protesting against Beijing's restrictions on the vote for Hong Kong's next leader.

Negative sentiment has already led to a drop in visitors over the Chinese New Year according to Hong Kong's Travel Industry Council (TIC), which said it was the first decline in 20 years.

Numbers fell 1.09 per cent to 842,124 for a six-day period, compared to the same period last year, immigration department figures show.

"I think the string of protests is one reason... the news reports about these kinds of activities certainly upsets their mood for travelling to Hong Kong," TIC executive director Joseph Tung told AFP.

He called the drop "alarming" and said Chinese visitors were travelling to other destinations which were more welcoming.

But democratic lawmaker Kwok Ka Ki said further curbs were needed.

He said an increased number of mainland visitors had "severely hampered" the city's transpiration system and it was harder for people to shop for daily necessities as stores focused on the needs of mainland tourists.

"If Hong Kong is unable to accommodate the requests or to change the policy a bit to alleviate the grievances, this could easily turn into more violent incidents like in the past few weeks," Kwok said.