China coronavirus is ‘rubbing salt into the wounds’ of HK’s tourism industry caused by anti-government protests

01-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong tourism has been left reeling from the double blow of the city’s anti-government protests and the China coronavirus, with those working in the sector facing uncertain futures, a leading industry figure has said.

Wong Ka-ngai, chair of the Hong Kong Tour Guides general Union, said the Wuhan outbreak, which has killed at the time of writing 213 people across mainland China and infected more than 9356, had severely dented cross-border travel.

He said the virus was “rubbing salt into the wounds” inflicted by the ongoing social unrest, sparked last June by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

His comments came as one agency, the Taiwan Good Travel Company, which is based in Hong Kong and runs tours both locally and on the mainland, revealed it had not arranged a single trip since mid-July.

Michael Chan Sai-tong, who owns the travel agency, said he used to have a dozen tour guides working full-time on the organised holidays.

But he terminated all their contracts in August because of the “complete shutdown” of his company, which he attributed to the civil unrest.

The company racked up a HK$800,000 (US$103,000) deficit under the weight of rent and licence fees, and Chan had to use his own savings to keep the business alive.

“Everyone became jobless,” he said. “Many of [my former employees] made a living by borrowing money from their family members and friends.

“I’ve sacked everyone, I’m the only one left. When I file my tax return in March, I might get some loans and see whether to move on or end my business.”

The tourism industry is suffering its toughest period since the city was plagued by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003.

Latest figures in November showed tourist arrivals took their sharpest plunge amid the anti-government protests, falling 56 per cent that month on the same period the previous year.

The number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong collapsed by 58 per cent to 1.92 million in that month. They accounted for 74 per cent of the city’s total arrivals in November.

Wong said while some guides had opted for a change of career, some chose to move to the mainland where the cost of living was lower, or confined themselves to their homes to reduce expenses.

“It’s a way to postpone their death,” he said.

Many tour guides felt disheartened, according to Wong, because their lives did not get any better despite their public pleas for government help.

“They felt it was useless to speak out,” he said. “It did nothing, but make another joke for their friends.”

While Wong agreed with the government’s decision to close multiple border checkpoints in light of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, he said: “The virus epidemic is just rubbing salt into the wounds of the tourism industry.”

Rotary Bus Services Company had 10 reservations for its coaches confirmed before the Lunar New Year holiday its first batch of bookings since October but they were all cancelled on Wednesday because of the spread of the disease.

Man Hoi-tik, a consultant at the company, estimated they had suffered losses of HK$30,000 from the cancellations.

He said his company started to feel the impact of the virus outbreak just as mainland tourists were returning to the city.

The company used to have four full-time coach drivers, but now had only one working on a part-time basis, as others switched to driving school coaches, taxis and franchised buses.

Man said before the protests broke out, coach drivers could earn more than HK$25,000 (US$3,200) a month, but between June and when local tours became effectively extinct in October, that had dropped to a basic monthly salary of HK$7,000.

He said his company had not suffered huge losses from the decline because tour coaches only made up a tenth of the firm’s income.

However, Man admitted the closure of borders would have a huge impact on their business.

On the way forward, Wong urged the government to offer loans of at least HK$150,000 to each tour guide who could not get another job.

But Chan said the government’s poor handling of the anti-government protests was the cause of the tourism slump.

“The social unrest needs to be quelled… The whole industry was victimised by the government,” he said.

“The government has performed badly in both the protests and the virus outbreak. It has refused to heed protesters’ demands. Why didn’t the government try to communicate with the youngsters?”


Category: Hong Kong

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