Friday, August 1, 2003

SARS stimulates ongoing growth in Internet usage in Hong Kong

IE Asia Team , 1-Aug-2003

Hong Kong residents cut back on their outdoor activities during the critical months of the recent SARS crisis, preferring to head to the Internet for essential medical information, news, as well as for online shopping, banking and education. What's more, they appear to have continued to enjoy these online services even after the all-clear, according to the latest information from Nielsen/NetRatings Hong Kong.

"The SARS crisis had a profound effect on Internet audiences in Hong Kong over the period from late March through to May. Traffic to Internet sites for shopping, banking, news, medical information and education grew to record highs," said Peter Steyn, Sales and Marketing Director, Nielsen//NetRatings Hong Kong.

At the height of the crisis in April, the number of active Internet users increased by 13% compared with the previous month - the fastest month-on-month growth in more than two years.

Usage levels also spiked in April, when Hong Kong people spent, on average, 22.5 hours online, compared to an average of just under 16 hours per month during the six months preceding SARS. Pages viewed increased by 44% in April compared with February, while the average number of domains accessed per person increased from 61 to 73.

"While Internet usage declined slightly post-SARS following their peak levels during the outbreak, our June figures still show significant increases over February,” Steyn said.

For example, he pointed out that Web sites in the banking sector saw a huge 26% increase in users in June over February, translating into an increase in audience reach of three percentage points.

Understandably, the travel category suffered during the crisis. However, with the all-clear signal in June, audiences to travel sites increased by 37% compared with April, as people took advantage of a variety of travel deals.

Among the categories analysed by Nielsen//NetRatings, online news sites experienced the highest growth (40%) in unique audience during April compared with February; followed by Education sites (36%); Bank sites (27%) and Shopping (15%).

Growth of the Shopping category was offset by a marked decline in movie/event ticket booking sites, and a drop in traffic to some travel sites. Several online shopping sites have, however, continued to increase their audience in June.

"There is little doubt that Internet audiences post-SARS have reached significantly higher levels than before the epidemic," said Steyn. "The question now is whether these gains will be sustained in the longer term."

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