Individual Visit Scheme
|Chinese name in Hong Kong and Macau|
|Literal meaning||free walking|
|Chinese name in Mainland China|
|Literal meaning||individual traveling|
|Economy of Hong Kong|
Geography - History - Politics
Hong Kong Portal
The Individual Visit Scheme began on July 28, 2003. It allowed travelers from Mainland China to visit Hong Kong and Macau on an individual basis. Prior to the Scheme, Mainland residents could only visit to Hong Kong and Macau on business visas or in group tours.
The outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong from March to June 2003 resulted in a sharp drop in the number of both Mainland and overseas visitors, to a low level that was unprecedented in recent years. The tourism industry was adversely affected.
The main reason for launching the Individual Visit Scheme was to boost the economy of Hong Kong and Macau. Under the initial stage of the scheme, residents of Beijing, Shanghai, and 8 Guangdong provincial cities (Dongguan, Foshan, Guangzhou, Huizhou, Jiangmen, Shenzhen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai) could apply for visas to visit the two Special Administrative Regions individually.
The scheme brought an immediate surge in the number of Mainland visitors. In the short period from July 28 to November 4, 2003, more than 600,000 individuals in the Mainland applied for visas, and 450,000 visas were issued. The number of visitors under the scheme reached two million in May 2004.
October 1 Golden Week 
October 1 Golden Week is the period from October 1 to October 7, coinciding with the National Day of the People's Republic of China on October 1. Therefore, more Mainlanders are able to visit Hong Kong during the holiday. In 2003, this holiday drew 287,000 Mainland visitors to Hong Kong, including 80,000 to 90,000 individual travelers. During, the hotel occupancy rate reached 75% to 80%. The Mass Transit Railway Corporation organized promotional programs at Telford Plaza in Kowloon Bay and Maritime Square in Tsing Yi during the National Day holiday.
In addition, the HKSAR Government has adopted a number of measures to deal with the huge influx of individual visitors. At the Lo Wu border crossing, there was an increase in the number of Hong Kong immigration officers on duty, and the time for checking in was reduced. Also, the number of MTR trains departing from Lo Wu was increased in order to reduce congestion. In addition, visitors from Shanghai and Beijing were encouraged to travel by plane to prevent congestion in Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau.
Economic impact 
According to the statistics released by the Immigration Department, about 800,000 to 900,000 Mainland visitors travel to Hong Kong monthly. The ratio of visitors under the scheme rose from 5% to 16.8% between August and October 2003, and to more than 30% in May 2004.
The increase in the number of Mainland tourists has benefits the economy of Hong Kong, demonstrating the economy is on an upward track. Average occupancy rate across all categories of hotels and tourist guest houses in September 2003 was 82%, the same as that in September 2002. This performance was spread across different types of hotels, with the top-tariff hotels achieving 81% occupancy and those of medium tariff recording 83%. The average achieved room rate was HK$ 684, the highest figure since April 2003, although this is still 2.8% below the comparable rate for September 2002.And in 2006,among the spending of all the visitors in Hong Kong, mainland visitors has taken up to $400 billion, which is one-third of the income.
The government has set up an Economy Relaunch Campaign, which includes raffles, the Lantau Festival, and Individual Visits to provide extra resources to revive the economy. These enhance the appeal of the Individual Visit Scheme.
"As the scheme is attracting a large number of Mainlanders to Hong Kong, it created a 'positive by-product' to attract overseas travelers to visit Hong Kong," said Miss Kinnie Wong, the assistant commissioner of the Tourism Commission. She added that tourists from overseas markets such as the United States and Australia may feel safe visiting Hong Kong again in the coming winter or during the Chinese New Year.
It has been suggested that more and more Mainlanders coming to Hong Kong will lead to the authorized saving of renminbi in Hong Kong. This change enables Mainland travelers access to money more easily when they need it. As a result, it will be more convenient for them to shop and trade in Hong Kong. Besides, the simplicity of the visa application process makes it beneficial. Since people are usually not willing to perform complicated procedures to apply for visas before visiting another place, the Individual Visit Scheme helps encourage visitors to Hong Kong. These two effects are considered long term.
She also pointed out that women joining the Individual Visit Scheme come to Hong Kong because they want to purchase brand-name products. An individual traveler, Mrs. Chiu, said that the brand-name products in Hong Kong are of more variety and are much cheaper when compared with other foreign countries.
As a short-term effect, there will be a rise in the employment rate and investment. Owners of shops or companies can foresee this vital trend and will employ more people in order to meet the needs of the influx of Mainland travelers.
Social impact 
The Hong Kong Government repeatedly pointed out that the crime rate of Mainland visitors under the scheme was very low. From August 2003 to May 2004, the number of individual visitors who were arrested for committing crimes such as theft or fraud was only 183, compared with more than 2 million visitors under the scheme.
Mr. Chan Wing-Kai, the head of the Consumer Complaints & Advice Council, said, "The percentage of complaints made by individual visitors is 9.3%, which is relatively low." The number of complaints made by individual visitors up to October was around 50. Many cases were due to misunderstandings, such as differences between consumer cultures.
One of the complaints was that some visitors were charged unfairly when having seafood in Sai Kung. However, it is a common practice in Hong Kong that the price of bought seafood is separated from the cooking cost, whereas in Mainland China this is considered cheating.
Timetable of implementation 
- July 28, 2003: Dongguan, Foshan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen
- August 20, 2003: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Huizhou
- September 1, 2003: Shanghai, Beijing
- January 1, 2004: Shantou, Chaozhou, Meizhou, Zhaoqing, Qingyuan, Yunfu
- May 1, 2004: Shanwei, Maoming, Zhanjiang, Shaoguan, Jieyang, Heyuan, Yangjiang (That covered the whole Guangdong province.)
- July 1, 2004: Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Taizhou, Fuzhou (urban area only), Xiamen, Quanzhou
- March 1, 2005: Tianjin, Chongqing (15 districts and counties only)
- November 1, 2005: Chengdu, Jinan, Dalian, Shenyang
- May 1, 2006: Nanchang, Changsha, Nanning, Haikou, Guiyang, Kunming
- January 1, 2007: Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, Changchun, Hefei, Wuhan
Macao Visa Restrictions 
- Apr-07, 2 visits per month.
- May-08, 1 visit per month.
- Jul-08, 1 visit per two months.
- Aug-08, travelers through Macao to another destination in China are only allowed to stay in Macao for 7 days vs. prior 14 days.
- Sep-08, eliminated a loophole that Chinese resident to travel Macao using Hong Kong visa.
- Oct-08, 1 visit per three months.
See also