Hong Kong Eyes Tourist Windfall Amid Japan Crisis

Hong Kong's travel sector and shopping malls said Friday they were expecting a windfall this Easter with tourists avoiding quake-hit Japan as it battles a nuclear crisis.

Businesses in the glitzy financial hub were upbeat on higher sales, as Japan struggles to recover from the March 11 quake and tsunami which devastated the northeast and crippled a nuclear power plant which has been leaking radiation.

Travel Industry Council director Joseph Tung said business was looking good as visitors, mostly mainland Chinese, look to Hong Kong as an alternative destination for the upcoming public holidays.

"People are steering clear of Japan because of the ongoing crisis," he told Agence France Presse, adding he expected to see a 15 percent increase in arrivals during the Easter and Labor Day holidays compared with last year.

"We expect a lot of visitors will flock to the city," he said, adding the city had also seen an uptick in business at hotels and offices as company executives relocate from Japan.

"Companies that have chosen to evacuate their staff and relocate to Hong Kong are already boosting businesses for hotels and offices," he said.

Travel agency Wing On Travel was also expecting an increase in arrivals.

"Hong Kong, being a close by and tourist-friendly place, will experience more inbound traffic," assistant general manager Daisie Sin said, estimating a 10 percent increase over the holiday season.

She said Hong Kong had already seen a higher number of tourists due to the Japan tsunami and nuclear crisis, mostly from Southeast Asian countries and mainland China.

Shopping malls across the city were also bracing for an influx of tourists during the holiday period.

Olympian City, a popular mall in West Kowloon district, expects 6.67 million shoppers to pass through its doors between April 10 and May 8, 11 percent up on last year, with sales turnover forecast to rise more than 10 percent.

Likewise, major shopping complex APM was expecting 1.2 million visitors over just the April 22-25 Easter weekend, a 12 percent increase in traffic over the last year, a spokeswoman said.

Property giant Sino Group, which owns a number of top malls, said Hong Kong would also benefit from the number of locals who were likely to stay in the city rather than holidaying in Japan.

"Japan is a favorite destination for a lot of locals, so more people will opt to stay in the city to shop," Irene So, the group's retail marketing and promotions general manager, told AFP.

"Those from elsewhere will likely see Hong Kong as a second option other than Japan, and we could stand to benefit," she added.

Japan's tourism industry has been hammered by the disaster, as foreign arrivals dropped from a daily average of 15,500 people last March to just over 5,000 in the wake of the triple disaster, Japanese officials said Wednesday.

Source: Agence France Presse

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