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Chinese tourists skipped Hong Kong, Taiwan and headed farther afield during Golden Week

Half a billion Chinese hit the road during last week’s Golden Week public holidays, an increase of 12 per cent from 2015.

The problem for Hong Kong’s economy: these tourists avoided the city in droves.

More Chinese tourists were willing to head farther afield than the usual shopping, eating and gambling hot spots of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, according to government data.

Hong Kong received 9,322 mainland visitors during the holidays from October 1 to 7, 55.7 per cent fewer than last year’s numbers, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

The number of Chinese tourists heading for Taiwan plunged by 69 per cent to 7,915, while visitors to Macau fell almost 62 per cent to 2,338, the data showed.

“Hong Kong continues to suffer from a lack of diversity in activities, besides shopping,” HSBC analyst Erwan Rambourg wrote in a note. “Shopping itself has become a less welcoming experience.

Destinations that attracted Chinese tourists were Russia, the United States, Morocco, Tunisia and Tonga.

“Wealthier Chinese travellers seem to be more adventurous,” Erwan said. “Unsurprisingly, the more wealthy the consumer, the more it is drawn to destinations further away such as Europe.”

More people chose to fly, with 9.96 million people taking flights during the weeklong holiday, 11.6 per cent more than last year, according to data by the Civil Aviation Administration of China. The total number of flights rose 18 per cent from last year, the data showed.

Russia came from nowhere to become the third-most popular destination for Chinese tourists, due to easier visa policies and a depreciating ruble that enticed shoppers.

Morocco, Tunisia and Tonga lured about four times more mainland visitors for the seven-day holiday from a year earlier after their governments granted visa-free entries for Chinese citizens.

More Chinese than ever before also jetted off to the United States to celebrate the Golden Week, with travel bookings to the country jumping 8.1 per cent from late September to the end of the holiday on October 7, according to ForwardKeys, a travel industry analysis firm.

“Improved air connectivity is driving the US as a destination with more secondary cities in China seeing direct flights to the States,”said the Spanish firm which tracks 14 million reservation transactions each day.

Los Angeles remains the top US destination for Chinese visitors with a market share of 26.9 per cent, but more air routes from Chinese cities helped New York gain popularity rapidly, according to ForwardKeys.

Chinese tourists have been the biggest spenders on outbound travel worldwide, splashing out as much as US$165 billion overseas in 2014, far exceeding that of the United States and Germany, according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation.

This story was amended to correct the percentages and visitor numbers in the third paragraph.