Dire jobs warning after massive plunge in visitors

Top News | Sophie Hui 22 Aug 2019

The financial secretary has warned that unemployment could surge, saying the decline in visitors has worsened markedly in recent weeks.

Paul Chan Mo-po said visitor numbers were down 33 percent year-on-year from August 6 to 10, and slid by 40 percent from August 11 to 15.

Besides tourism, Chan said on radio, unemployment and underemployment were biting seriously at the catering and construction industries.

Hong Kong's unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage points to 2.9 percent between May and July - the first increase since July 2017.

Warning that third-quarter performances would be worse than what's gone before, Chan said the economy faces internal and external difficulties.

Besides the upheavals in Hong Kong are the US-China trade war, a no-deal or "hard" Brexit and a variety of geopolitical troubles in the Middle East.

The grassroots, the middle class and small- and medium-sized enterprises face the biggest pressures under the stringent economy, Chan indicated, so it was necessary for the government to provide a series of supportive measures.

Chan announced HK$19.1-billion-worth of so-called "sweeteners" and waivers last Thursday.

They include reducing salaries and profits taxes for 2018/19 by 75 percent, subject to a ceiling of HK$20,000.

He also recounted visiting a market on Saturday and being told by stallholders that the sweeteners were helpful.

The business environment is crucial, Chan added, and he hoped the current unrest could cease as soon as possible.

"People are not in the mood due to the recent social issues," Chan said. "The retail market is more gloomy. Shops may need to close because of the protests and marches."

On the central government's plan to build Shenzhen into a "pilot demonstration area of socialism with Chinese characteristics," Chan said the roles of the SAR and its neighboring city can be complementary, and they can cooperate in development.

Hong Kong has advantages like the one country, two systems arrangement and common law, he added, so if the SAR can play up its advantages it will not need to worry about competition.

Timothy Chui Ting-pong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Association, said the industry welcomed the government waiver of license fees for travel agencies but stressed a return to social order is crucial.

"I expect there will be almost no mainland tour groups visiting Hong Kong in September," he said, and the National Day Golden Week in October would be "very quiet."

Chui suggested the government should seek to attract more visitors by offering bigger discounts for theme park admissions and high-speed rail tickets.

It could also coordinate with voluntary organizations to offer emergency financial help to tour guides, he said.

Ricky Tse Kam-ting, the Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators Association's founding president, said the priority should be a halt to the protest action as waiving licence fees has limited benefits.

Wong Ping, chairman of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union, said the sector does not benefit much from the just-announced supportive measures.

And he attributed increased unemployment to slow progress in the Legislative Council of funding proposals for projects.

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