Hong Kong is opening up to tourism — but is it too late?

(CNN) : Market vendor Mr. Chan gestures around what used to be one of Hong Kong’s busiest streets.

“There are no tourists now, whatsoever,” he says. Mr. Chan sells silver earrings, necklaces and scarves on Tung Choi Street in Kowloon, which is famous for its robust night market.

The past three years have been harsh on him. He kept his stall open until 10 p.m. before the pandemic, but these days he closes at 7 p.m.

He hopes for swift change with the end of quarantine, which had a devastating effect on businesses that relied on tourism.

Hong Kong has taken steps in recent days to reopen itself to the world, by first lifting its mandatory three-day hotel quarantine, then announcing a global banking summit in November.

Officials hope the move will revive Hong Kong’s status as an international business and travel hub, but some locals feel the change may be too late.

A long winter

The lifting of the quarantine was received with elation by the city’s residents, who have endured more than two years of crushing pandemic measures.

At its most strict, Hong Kong’s quarantine rules required incoming travelers to spend 21 days in a hotel room paid at their own expense. Only Hong Kong residents were permitted entry.

Those unlucky enough to come from certain regions or countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases could find themselves in a government-run facility.

As a result, travel in and out of the financial hub was at record lows.

Once news of the end of quarantine was announced on Friday, September 30, travel-starved Hong Kongers flocked to book flights online. The city’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific set up a virtual “waiting room” to get onto its website, where hold times could easily stretch to 30 minutes.

The online travel booking service Expedia said its website also saw a 9-fold surge in search for flights from Hong Kong to Tokyo and 11-fold for flights from Hong Kong to Osaka.

However, the interest in flights to Hong Kong remained unchanged, Lavinia Rajaram, Expedia’s Asia head of public relations, said.