Hotels feel protest pinch in thousands of empty rooms

Local | Charlotte Luo 18 Sep 2019

Occupancy rates at some five-star hotels have plunged to as low as 10 percent amid the recent unrest, it was revealed yesterday.

This came as the government announced that Hong Kong's overall unemployment rate stood at 2.9 percent from June to August, unchanged from between May and July.

But the unemployment rates in the retail, accommodation and food services sectors have been increasing amid weak local consumption and plunging visitor arrivals, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong noted yesterday.

The occupancy findings came from the Hotels, Food & Beverage Employees Association, which sent 1,345 questionnaires to staff working in hotels at the end of August. It received 438 responses, with 85 percent from full-time employees and 15 percent from part-timers.

Ninety percent of respondents said they had been forced to take leave, and 77 percent had to take no-pay leave for between one and three days.

Respondents also noted that summer should be a peak time for hotels, with occupancy rates reaching 90 percent previously.

But 84 percent said occupancy rates have been adversely affected by the protests and plummeted to 30 percent or less.

It was also said some five-star hotels saw only 10 percent of rooms occupied on some days, while others even closed some floors for cleaning or refurbishment.

The survey also found 83 percent of respondents' monthly income had suffered cuts ranging from HK$1,000 to HK$3,000 and about 43 percent feared layoffs.

An employee at a five-star hotel in Yau Tsim Mong named Tommy said some of his colleagues had to take four days of annual leave per month or transfer to another division as eight floors of the hotel had been closed.

He described the situation as being "worse than the outbreak of SARS" in 2003, and said a lobby manager was asked to help wash dishes.

Nerine Yip Lau-ching, secretary general of the Hotels, Food & Beverage Employees Association, said bookings for October's Golden Week is only around 30 percent, even though some five-star hotel rooms can be booked for as little as HK$800 a night.

The association now wants the government to create an aid fund to provide unemployed workers with 80 percent of their pay. Any payout would, however, be capped at HK$14,000.

According to official statistics for the second quarter, the jobless rate in the accommodation and food service sectors was 3.9 percent, or 12,400 people.

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