Tourism sector's bread and butter reduced to crumbs

Top News | Avery Chen 19 Sep 2019

The number of mainland tour groups - the largest revenue contributor to the tourism industry - slumped 90 percent in the first two weeks of the month amid the unrest, according to the Travel Industry Council.

Tour groups from short-haul markets fell 50 percent during the period, slowing economic growth, amid the increasing safety concerns after the Hong Kong International Airport was occupied by demonstrators in August, said council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat.

Overall visitor arrivals dropped about 40 percent in August year on year, the worst decline since the 2003 SARS epidemic, said Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po earlier this month.

"Almost all Hong Kong tour guides have had to stop working recently," said Timothy Chui Ting-pong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association.

The mainland is Hong Kong's biggest source of visitors, accounting for 79 percent of total arrivals for the first seven months of the year, data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board showed.

In the past two months, the number of tour groups from the mainland has plunged to eight-10 a day from 200-300 a day, Chui added.

Because of this Zhuhai, near Macau, is encouraging Hong Kong guides to work in its Hengqing district, where they can earn as much as 30,000 yuan (HK$33,130) in 45 days.

Wong said some travel agencies have asked staff to take unpaid leave and that mainlanders are choosing longer haul destinations - instead of Hong Kong - for the Golden Week holiday from October 1 to 7. And if the unrest would not subside, he added, companies may adopt more cost-cutting measures.

Chui said the hotel industry is also suffering. Some hotels serving tour groups have seen 30-40 percent declines in occupancy rate in the past two months and have to offer many promotions to boost consumption. Many rooms have dropped to below HK$1,000 a night.

Hotels in some locations saw more than a 50 percent drop in occupancy rates last month - supposedly the tourist season - with room prices plunging 40-70 percent, according to Chan.

The government announced a stimulus package worth HK$19.1 billion in mid-August, including waiving license fees for hotels and tourist agencies.

But Wong said the measures could only provide short-term benefits.

For the long term, he said the government should try to end the unrest as soon as possible.

Or, he added, it could provide training allowance for workers on unpaid leave - similar to what it did during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

avery.chen@singtaonewscorp.com

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