Travel agencies across Guangdong have been ordered to halt all one-day trips to Hong Kong and Macau on weekends via the cross-border bridge to reduce the nuisance suffered by the cities’ residents.
The move comes about a week after Guangzhou tourism authorities issued an urgent notice asking travel agencies in the provincial capital to avoid taking groups of visitors across the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge at weekends.
Since the crossing opened to traffic on October 24, large numbers of mainland visitors have descended on the usually quiet neighbourhood of Tung Chung, on Lantau Island, crowding bus stops and emptying shop shelves.
Between October 17 and November 1, more than 1.78 million visas to Hong Kong and Macau were issued to applicants across Guangdong – mostly retirees – making for a year-on-year increase of 26.6 per cent, according to the province’s public security department.
Aside from Tung Chung residents and activists being upset by the large crowds, there have also been allegations that illegal tour operators were flouting employment laws that prevent mainlanders from working in Hong Kong.
The Guangdong Provincial Culture and Tourism Department said that it had taken three measures to “further reduce the pressure on the ports and the surrounding areas”.
In halting short weekend trips to Hong Kong and Macau via the bridge, it had encouraged travel agencies to arrange “quality trips that last two days or more”.
The other two measures were to get tourism authorities at municipal and lower levels to monitor the agencies closely, and control passenger flow through an online ticketing system for cross-border buses.
“After our department and other related authorities carried out the control measures, traffic on roads to the bridge’s port in Zhuhai has become smooth, and the number of passengers heading to Hong Kong from Zhuhai has been effectively contained,” the department said.
According to the Travel Industry Council in Hong Kong, the number of registered tour groups coming over the bridge fell to 340 last weekend from 430 the weekend before.
Hong Kong’s Immigration Department reported that last weekend, 76,473 passengers entered Hong Kong via the bridge, down from 102,749 the weekend before, a 26 per cent drop.
The marketing representatives of two major travel agencies in Guangzhou, Guangzhilv and Nanhu, claimed they were not aware of the latest orders.
On Nanhu’s website, 13 one-day trips to Hong Kong and Macau via the bridge were still available as of Wednesday evening, including weekend trips.
Guangzhilv’s four one-day trips to Hong Kong all depart on weekdays.
Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee, executive director of Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council, welcomed the new measures by Guangdong, and said it would make further cuts to the number of one-day tours.
Chan said there was no need to ban all one-day trips if the mainland visitors arrived in properly managed groups led by local tour agents.
She said the council would monitor the situation and stay in touch with the Guangdong authorities.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing expected Guangdong travel agencies to comply with the orders of their provincial authorities and organise more two-day tours.
This would help relieve pressure on the port-to-port shuttle bus services at the bridge, the border clearance facilities and the local districts that visitors go to, he added.
(Source: South China Morning Post)