DestinationsTough social distancing measures have dealt another blow to local trade, but travel businesses are reacting more nimbly than before.

Hong Kong third wave piles more pressure on struggling tourism

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Travel stakeholders including attractions, travel agents and F&B businesses are suffering as city tightens social distancing rules
Travel stakeholders including attractions, travel agents and F&B businesses are suffering as city tightens social distancing rules Photo Credit: Catharine Nicol

Just as Hong Kong was emerging into a new normal, the so-called third wave of infections has brought a new blow for the local economy and travel businesses as infections surged to over 100 daily since July 22.

The authorities have implemented the toughest social distancing measures yet, including obligatory wearing face masks in public and limiting gatherings limited to no more than two people from different households (more for a family unit).

The latest measures come just as Hong Kongers were beginning to show an interest in taking up local tours, in particular "Green Tourism", thanks in part to the green tour subsidy provided by Travel Industry Council to travel agents.

However, the return to severe social distancing measures were described as a “devastating blow indeed” by Ronald Wu, chairman of Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents.

“Members are quite disappointed with the decision, but at the same time, we fully understand that we will need to control the spread of the virus first, nothing is more important than reducing casualties,” he said.

With staycations being a mainstay in the Hong Kong hospitality scene since the pandemic impacted international tourism to the city, local hotels have been able to react more nimbly in response to the third wave.

“In light of the new measures, we have created two more packages to cater to different needs, such as Eatcation and a Daycation – 12-hour escape for those who are craving a quiet space to work and chill,” said Charis Yim, executive assistant manger - sales & marketing of Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.

"For example, food delivery is a newly created division, and is supported by associates from spa, events and rooms [departments],” Yim added.

Meanwhile, many attractions such as Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park have been closed since mid-July as per government requirements, with validity of some tickets and membership extended and others refunded.

While the parks remain closed, the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort hotels are continuing to operate with enhanced health and safety measures.

The Peak Tram, part public transport and part tourist attraction, has initiated disinfections of the tramcars following each journey, and increased cleaning of the termini, plus hand sanitisers for visitors as well as employees. All staff have their temperature checked before entering the workplace.

In order to attract local tourists, even if only two people at a time, their Peak Tram 132 Anniversary Promotion has launched a 50% discount on the Peak Tram Sky Pass to select passengers and, significantly, free journeys to healthcare professionals.

The already struggling F&B industry – numbering over 16,000 eateries in Hong Kong – found itself temporarily at the forefront of social distancing restrictions with restaurants could only serve take-out meals.

Dining-in between 9am and 6pm was reinstated after a 48-hour hiatus as of last Friday, bringing a masked sigh of relief to restaurateurs and customers across the city. And yet pivoting to delivery has been tough across the board.

“Even with an increase in delivery due to the dine-in ban and opening all day delivery services at some of our restaurants, I can only see this reaching the 10-12% mark, and that does not even cover half of our payroll,” said Syed Asim Hussain, founder of Black Sheep Restaurants, which operates over 20 restaurants and so far has managed to avoid employee redundancies.

Online guide Openrice reported over 250 restaurant closures in June, and the industry called for a HK$8 billion (US$30 million) hand out to offset a predicted HK$7 billion loss during August.

Hussain added: “Hong Kong is a resilient city and restaurants are such an integral part of the social fabric of our community and they need to be part of the comeback story. But to continue to persevere, we need financial support from the government. Without it, there is a high chance that so much of what makes Hong Kong the city that it is may not make it through this.”

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