Representatives of Hong Kong’s ailing tourism industry have urged the government to provide HK$100 million to revive the sector after almost three years of crippling Covid-19 restrictions on visitors.
Top members of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong and four lawmakers from the city’s largest pro-Beijing party the DAB discussed the difficulties faced by the trade at a Thursday press event.
While the city axed most of its Covid-19 restrictions last month and resumed quarantine-free travel with the mainland on January 8, council chair Gianna Hsu told reporters the recent development “only means a start for our industry, and we are not yet in the course of revival.”
“We expect that we will have to wait until 2024, or even till the middle of that year, for our trade to return to normal,” Hsu added.
Hong Kong had around 444,000 visitors between January and November last year, official figures show, less than one per cent of the 52.7 million visitors in the first 11 months of 2019.
Although there are still around 1,600 travel agencies left in the city, Hsu said many had to shrink operations over the past three years. “Some are reduced to having one desk only,” she added.
They need funds to rehire staff, rent proper offices and purchase necessities for their business, she said.
There are also between 1,500 to 2,000 tourist coaches that have been sitting idle for almost three years. The cost of bringing one back into service ranges from HK$60,000 to over HK$100,000, Hsu added.
In addition, the travel industry will have to put more resources into headhunting, staff training and overseas promotion.
According to Hsu, Hong Kong’s travel industry employed around 18,000 people before the pandemic, but has lost over half of its manpower over the past three years.
In light of the difficulties faced by the trade, the council asked the government to provide funds matching the investment the industry would be making to support its revival.
It also urged the authorities to provide low-interest loans to the travel sector or negotiate with banks to ease loan terms for tourism companies.
When HKFP asked how much they expected the government to spend, the Executive Director of the council Fanny Yeung said “it would be around HK$100 million.”
If such a subsidy were granted, Yeung said it would take the trade around one year to bounce back to its pre-pandemic level. “If we don’t have this subsidy, frankly, we don’t know if we can really revive or not,” she added.
Hsu said their suggested amount would be able to cover all aspects of the industry’s needs, including the maintenance of coaches and hiring of new staffers.