HK’s struggling tourism sector gets HK$100 million cash sweetener, but industry says it means ‘nothing’ with no customers

24-Oct-2019 Intellasia | AFP | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s travel industry was thrown a lifeline on Wednesday with a government-backed HK$100 million cash incentive to entice agents to bring in more business.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah revealed that travel agents would be offered a cash incentive of HK$120 per inbound tourist staying overnight, and HK$100 per outbound tourist, with a maximum of 500 tourists per agent.

This meant that from November to the end of March 2020, each travel agent was eligible to earn up to HK$60,000 extra from the government scheme, he said.

Yau said the sweeteners were aimed at helping the city’s 1,700 travel agents, 60,000 tour guides and 17,000 tour escorts, whose industry has been among the hardest hit by months of anti-government protests and the US-China trade war.

“Our reputation as a safe city is at stake because of all the things happening in Hong Kong. So far, 40 countries have given travel advice to citizens visiting Hong Kong, with a few of them issuing alerts,” Yau said.

“Fundamentally, we need to restore order and make sure Hong Kong remains a safe city.”

Yau said the incentive programme was a “much-needed” short-term measure, while restoring the city’s reputation as a safe city was a longer term plan.

The cash incentive will be funded directly by the government’s Tourism Board and the travel agent watchdog, Travel Industry Council.

Yau estimated that the scheme could result in up to 850,000 tourists being attracted to Hong Kong.

Tourism Board chair Pang Yiu-kai said each overnight-stay tourist in Hong Kong spent an average of HK$6,600.

“This scheme is one that will be immediately carried out,” Pang said. “It will help tourism related industries such as hotels, airlines, restaurants and logistics.”

The council chair Jason Wong Chun-tat said airlines’ forward booking for the Christmas period was looking “miserable”.

In August, tourist arrivals fell 30 per cent to 3.59 million year-on-year, with preliminary figures showing the slide widening to 50 per cent fewer arrivals through September and the beginning of October.

Before the social unrest gripped Hong Kong more than four months ago triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill the city had already seen tourism figures fall as a result of the persistent trade war between China and the United States.

If no one comes to Hong Kong, then the subsidies are nothing

Wong Ka-ngai

Johnny So Tsz-yeung, general manager at Sunflower Travel Service, questioned whether consumers would simply ask for discounts off their tour price due to the cash incentive.

“As a consumer, you would be aware of the scheme. So does that mean consumers will ask for the incentive money back?” he said.

So said the HK$100 subsidy would mean more to companies operating tours in the mainland’s Guangdong province, which cost about HK$200 to HK$300 per head meaning the incentive could cut the tour cost by up to half.

“For tours that travel by plane, which charge more than HK$1,000 … the attractiveness [to customers] is not as big,” he said.

He added the scheme would likely be limited for larger outbound tour agencies due to the cap of 500 customers per travel agent.

Wong Ka-ngai, chair of Hong Kong Tour Guides general Union, said the subsidy for inbound tours would not help local guides much, because tourists have been deterred from coming to Hong Kong over safety concerns.

“If no one comes to Hong Kong, then the subsidies are nothing,” he said.

He also believed the money would not go to tour guides in the end.

“Maybe it could somehow help tour agencies if they have customers. But the problem is there are no customers.

“Tour companies are struggling. So how can they take care of the guides?” he said.

He hoped the government would instead offer no-interest or low-interest cash loans.

Chan Siu-lun, chair at Hong Kong Certified Tour Escort Association, echoed the sentiment.

“It totally can’t help. I absolutely won’t believe the firms will share the money with us,” he said.

“It’s just helping tour agencies.”

He said there were about 2,000 to 3,000 escorts actively working in the city, with more than 130 escorts of those reporting their income had reduced to zero.

Chan urged the government to hire escorts as temporary tourism ambassadors to help travellers across the city.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho said HK$120 would not attract big-spending tourists.

“The entire policy is a failure and not well thought out. It’s only helping tourist agencies,” Tam said.

“And it does not distinguish between tourists staying short term and long term.”

Tam said it would only boost cheap cross-border tours, not self-guided tours that have become increasingly popular.

The government announced the scheme as part of HK$2 billion worth of relief measures unleashed on Tuesday the third wave of bailout schemes in two months aimed at shoring up jobs and enterprise.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post

Comments are closed.