‘Indian visitor numbers may drop after tougher Hong Kong visa rules’

Hong Kong, Dec 26 (IANS) Travel and tour operators are worried that new rules imposed recently could bring down the number of tourists opting to go to Hong Kong and Macau — the latter known as the Las Vegas of the east.

Recently, the Immigration Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) announced rules, applicable from January 23 next year, requiring Indian nationals to register online and taking the approval slip with them prior to boarding a flight or a ship to Hong Kong.

In the past several years, Indians could get a 14-day visa on arrival at the immigration counters here.

“Thousands of Indian tourists and other visitors have been going to Hong Kong every year. One reason for that was that one could easily book a flight ticket and arrive in Hong Kong to avail the visa-on-arrival facility. Now, the tourists will have an additional thing to ensure prior to their travel. This could lead to situations at immigration counters in India and in Hong Kong,” Jaskirat Singh, who runs a travel company in New Delhi, told IANS by phone.

“Indian nationals must apply for and successfully complete pre-arrival registration online before they can visit or transit the HKSAR visa-free. Pre-arrival registration is not required for Indian nationals in direct transit by air and not leaving the airport transit area,” the website of the Hong Kong Immigration Department states. The visitors are required to carry a printout of the pre-registration with them.

The pre-arrival registration is free of charge for Indian nationals holding Indian passports valid for six months and intending to visit or transit (with Hong Kong stay) for a period not exceeding 14 days.

Some exemptions have been granted in the new immigration rules to Indian nationals who hold diplomatic or official passports, those who are already enrolled under the ‘e-Channel’ service for frequent visitors, those holding a valid HKSAR Travel Pass or hold a valid entry visa and for air crew and sea crew on board vessels.

“Visiting the tourist attractions in Hong Kong, like Disneyland, Ocean Park, temples and the shopping areas could become difficult now. At least children could have been exempted from this requirement,” Aryan Chopra, a student, said.

A large number of Indian visitors use Hong Kong as a gateway to Macau, which has the largest concentration of gambling casinos outside of Las Vegas in the United States.

Those visiting Hong Kong for stay extending beyond 14 days or coming there for study, employment or residence need to obtain the appropriate visa before travel.

The pre-arrival registration is normally valid for six months. However, immigration checks would still be carried out on arrival.

“The issue of the notification slip is not a guarantee of the registrant’s entry to the HKSAR. The registrant is still subject to immigration control under the provisions of the immigration laws of Hong Kong,” the new rules state.

In ten months to October 2016, around 4.12 lakh Indian visitors came to Hong Kong, according to official statistics. In all, Hong Kong got 59.3 million tourists in 2015, a majority (45.8 mn) of them being from China mainland.

(Jaideep Sarin can be reached at jaideep.s@ians.in)

–IANS

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