While the previous decade saw a decline in tourism in Hong Kong -- due to events like the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the 2009 global recession -- the new decade shows promise of a rebound, with a healthy influx of visitors and an impressive list of new hotels. The face of the tourist industry, however, has changed. Whereas long-distance visitors, particularly from North America and Europe, used to account for the greater share of Hong Kong's tourism industry, regional tourism now fuels the surge in growth -- thanks to a huge influx of mainland Chinese who, because of relaxed visa regulations, are filling Hong Kong's hotels in ever-increasing numbers. A never-ending parade of conventions, trade fairs, and other events also contributes to Hong Kong's healthy tourism industry.
Hotel occupancy in Hong Kong now stands around 85%, with increased demand causing room rates to rise. Hotels are not cheap in the SAR, especially when compared with those in many other Asian cities. Rather, prices are similar to what you'd pay in major U.S. and European cities, and while US$200 might get you the best room in town in Topeka, Kansas, in Hong Kong it will get you a small, undistinguished box not unlike a highway motel room. In other words, except for the cost of getting to Hong Kong, your biggest expenditure is going to be for a place to stay.
Still, bargains can be found, especially online and at hotel websites. Upper-end hotels may offer special packages, including weekend getaways, off-season incentives, and upgrades, while lower-end hotels may offer special promotional rates in the off season. Some hotels offer "early bird" discounts if you book a month or two in advance; others may throw in extras, such as breakfast or airport transfers, in package deals.
In any case, you should always book rooms well in advance, especially if you have a particular hotel, location, or price category in mind. The SAR's biggest hotel crunches traditionally occur twice a year, during Hong Kong's most clement weather: in March through May (April is the busiest month) and again in October and November. In addition, major trade fairs at Hong Kong's convention center can wreak havoc on travelers who arrive without reservations -- all of Hong Kong's hotels will be fully booked. Unsurprisingly, prices are highest during peak season and major trade fairs. While bargains are abundant during the off seasons, many hotels use their published rack rates during peak season and major trade fairs.
As for trends in the hotel industry, Hong Kong's biggest markets nowadays are business travelers and tourists from mainland China. This translates into crowded elevators and lobbies in the moderately priced hotels that Chinese frequent. On the other end of the spectrum are the recent influx of a new niche -- boutique hotels offering a more intimate atmosphere and unique decor that's a distinct departure from cookie-cutter hotels. Hotels have also improved services and in-room amenities, so that standard features in even inexpensive rooms are likely to include hair dryers, room safes, minibars or refrigerators you can stock yourself, hot-water kettles with free tea and coffee, Internet access or Wi-Fi (occasionally free but most often for a daily fee of about HK$100-HK$160), and cable and/or satellite TVs with in-house pay movies. Nonsmoking floors are common in all hotels except for rock-bottom guest houses. Most hotels also have tour desks or can book tours for you through the concierge or front desk.
Unless otherwise stated, all hotels in this guide have air-conditioning (a must in Hong Kong), private bathroom (most with tub/shower combinations, though many of the newer moderately priced hotels are going shower only), and telephones with international direct dialing. Room service (either 24 hr. or until the wee hours of the morning), babysitting, and same-day laundry service are available in moderate to very expensive hotels, as are Western and Asian restaurants and business centers providing Internet access (usually for a fee). Many also offer health clubs with fitness rooms and swimming pools, almost always free for hotel guests. A growing number of upper-range hotels have also added full-range spas.
Some hotels differentiate among their guests, charging health-club or in-room Internet fees, for example, for those who book through a travel agent or the hotel's website but not for those who pay rack rates (the maximum quoted rates). Guests booking through discount websites may also receive fewer amenities. Note that while many hotels allow children under a specific age (usually 11 and under) to room free with parents, restrictions apply. Some allow only one child, while others allow a maximum of three people in a room. Almost all charge extra if an extra bed is required.
It's nearly impossible to predict what might happen over the next few decades, let alone the next few years. In 1985, Hong Kong had a sparse 18,180 hotel rooms. Today that number has swelled to almost 60,000, with more on the way. Only one thing is certain: If the tourists continue to pour into Hong Kong, hotels will happily continue to raise their rates.
Hong Kong's cheapest accommodations aren't hotels and aren't recommended for visitors who expect cleanliness and comfort. Rather, these accommodations, usually called "guesthouses," attract a young backpacking crowd, many of whom are traveling through Asia and are interested only in a bed at the lowest price. They also attract laborers, mostly men from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. At any rate, some guesthouses offer rooms with a private bathroom; others are nothing more than rooms filled with bunk beds. Of Hong Kong's rock-bottom establishments, none is more notorious than Chungking Mansion, an inspiration for the Wong Kar-Wai film Chungking Express. Although it occupies a prime spot at 40 Nathan Rd., between the Holiday Inn Golden Mile and the Sheraton in Tsim Sha Tsui, Chungking Mansion is easy to overlook; there's no big sign heralding its existence. In fact, its ground floor is one huge maze of inexpensive shops and stalls. But above all those shops are five towering concrete blocks, each served by its own tiny elevator and known collectively as Chungking Mansion. Inside are hundreds of little businesses, apartments, guesthouses, eateries, and sweatshops. Some of the guesthouses are passable; many are not. But while most guesthouses were once borderline squalor, today many have cleaned up their act in a bid for the tourists' dollars. Still, Chungking is not the kind of place you'd want to recommend to anyone uninitiated in the seamier side of travel. The views from many room windows are more insightful than some guests might like -- the backside of the building and mountains of trash down below. Even worse are the ancient-looking tiny elevators filled to capacity with human cargo; you might want to stick to the stairs. In any case, sometimes the elevators don't work at all, making it a long hike up the dozen flights of stairs to the top floors. But the most compelling argument for avoiding Chungking Mansion is one of safety: It could be a towering inferno waiting to happen. However, for some budget travelers, it's a viable alternative to Hong Kong's high-priced hotels. And you certainly can't beat it for location.
If you insist on staying here, be sure to read the review for the Chunking House. Chungking Mansion contains approximately 100 guesthouses, divided into five separate tower blocks, from A Block to E Block. For the less daring, A Block is the best, since its elevator is closest to the front entrance of the building. The other elevators are farther back in the shopping arcade, which can be a little disconcerting at night when the shops are all closed and the corridors are deserted. I recommend that you begin your search in Block A. I also recommend that you stay on lower floors. But no matter what the block, never leave any valuables in your room.
Youth Hostels & Dormitory Beds
If you don't mind giving up your privacy, the cheapest accommodations in town are the dormitory beds available at the Salisbury YMCA for HK$240. Otherwise, Hong Kong's hostels -- there are seven of them on the islands and territories -- offer the cheapest rates around. However, most are not conveniently located -- indeed, some require a ferry ride and/or a 45-minute hike from the nearest bus stop, as they are located in country parks.
If you don't have a youth hostel card, you can still stay at a youth hostel by paying an extra HK$30 per night. After 6 nights, nonmembers are eligible for member status and subsequently pay overnight charges at members' rates. It's cheaper for the long haul, however, to purchase Youth Hostels Association (YHA) membership for HK$130, available at any youth hostel. Note that children 4 and under are not allowed at Hong Kong's youth hostels. For more information, contact the Hong Kong Youth Hostels Association (tel. 852/2788 1638; www.yha.org.hk). Bookings can be made through the website, and credit cards are accepted.
The most conveniently located youth hostel is the 169-bed Jockey Club Mt. Davis Youth Hostel, on top of Mt. Davis on Hong Kong Island (tel. 852/2817 5715), with fantastic panoramic views. It charges youth hostel members HK$110 per night for a dormitory bed for those 18 and over (younger guests get a discount). There are also a few private rooms, with a double costing HK$340. Facilities include a communal kitchen, free Wi-Fi, and coin-op laundry room. To reach it, take the free hostel shuttle bus, which departs from the Macau Ferry Terminal (MTR: Sheung Wan) seven times daily (check the website for specific times). A taxi from Central costs approximately HK$80. The hostel itself is open daily from 7am to 11pm, but check-in starts at 3pm.
Other hostels are on outlying islands and in the New Territories; most charge HK$65 for dormitory beds for those 18 and older. Check-in is from 4pm. There are kitchens and washing facilities, as well as campsites. Since these hostels are not easily accessible, they are recommended only for the adventurous traveler. Of these, the Hong Kong Bank Foundation S.G. Davis Hostel, on Lantau Island about a 10-minute walk from the Po Lin Monastery with its giant Buddha (tel. 852/2985 5610), is the easiest to reach from the airport.