Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta (06/11): Destination: Hong Kong. Travellers said, no, thanks!
The ongoing protests, which began in June and have become increasingly violent, have taken a toll on Hong Kong’s tourism industry, with sharp declines in visitor arrivals affecting attractions, shops, food and drink outlets and hotels.
About 40 foreign jurisdictions have issued warnings or alerts against travel to Hong Kong, as clashes between protesters and police become increasingly regular, and government buildings, MTR stations, shops and restaurants with mainland Chinese links are vandalised.
Singapore is also one of them. That makes Singapore travellers gave Hong Kong a miss over Diwali or Deepavali long weekend (27-28 Oct).
Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights, falls on Sunday and Monday, is a public holiday in Singapore.
For the first time since opening some five decades ago, Singapore-based tour agency Nam Ho Travel did not have any tour bookings to Hong Kong for the long weekend. During previous long weekends, it would have at least 10 to 20 bookings.
Hong Kong also known as “family-friendly destination” to Singaporeans with tourist attractions such as Disneyland and Ocean Park.
Another travel agency, C&E Holidays, said they have had no enquiries for the long weekend.
“This month is totally dead,” said a spokesman. The agency will now focus on short-haul destinations, including neighboring Batam in Indonesia.
However, some Singaporeans are going ahead with plans to travel to Hong Kong, having already booked their trips in advance.
By going ahead with the trip, they “obviously decided to be adventurous” and would be spontaneous with their itinerary. If the protests get more “exciting”, they would likely escape to one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands instead.
Another tourist from Germany said, “I didn’t watch the news when I booked my ticket and it was the weekend the riots started to turn violent. First thing that came to my mind was OMG,” she admitted. “I am most definitely worried, but knowing I’ll be away from the city comforts me.”
She will watch out for the latest protest developments and will be “on standby” to cancel her trip if the situation worsens.
Meanwhile, the council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat said airlines’ forward booking for the Christmas period – which only 1 month away – was looking “miserable”.
Its Worst Downturn Since SARS Outbreak
A former senior executive at Cathay Pacific Airways has been put in charge of reviving Hong Kong tourism amid its worst downturn since the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003.
Dane Cheng Ting-yat is due to start his role as executive director of Hong Kong Tourism Board. His first job was to reduce the impact of protests on the industry. He looked forward to seeing new strategies, such as attracting more tourists from parts of the world other than the mainland.
For example, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is doing more to attract local and overseas tourists, such as rolling out exclusive offers with lower prices.
Among the worst affected are shops at Park Lane Shopper’s Boulevard in Tsim Sha Tsui, located next to the district police station.
The prime shops strip near Kowloon Park is popular for clothes, shoes, jewelers and electronics, attracting Hongkongers as well as tourists.
But it has become a hotspot with protesters regularly surrounding and heckling the police station, prompting the force to respond with tear gas and beanbag rounds. Vandalism has also forced the closure of Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station a number of times.
Also affected is chain-store giant Sasa, which has 118 outlets across Hong Kong and Macau and is hugely popular with mainland tourists, who fill their luggage with moisturizing masks, cosmetics and skincare items.
In Causeway Bay, businesses are also suffering the drops in tourism. The area is a regular venue for violent clashes between protesters and the police.
The Sweeteners for The Travel Agents
Tourist arrivals fell nearly 40 per cent in August from the same month last year and about 50 per cent for the first 15 days of October, which includes the “golden week”, a major Chinese holiday period.
Among those who are hardest hit are Hong Kong’s tour guides, who number about 60,000.
Officials are scrambling to throw the tourism industry a lifeline, with the government unveiling a HK$100 million cash incentive scheme for the sector.
Travel agents will be offered a cash incentive of HK$120 per inbound tourist staying overnight, and HK$100 per outbound tourist, with a maximum of 500 tourists per agent.
This meant that from November to the end of March 2020, each travel agent was eligible to earn up to HK$60,000 extra from the government scheme.
The sweeteners were aimed at helping the city’s 1,700 travel agents, 60,000 tour guides and 17,000 tour escorts, whose industry has been among the hardest hit by months of anti-government protests and the US-China trade war.
Photos: Dessy Savitri