Hong Kong tourism battered as protests hurt economy
TORONTO: Hong Kong tourism has been one of the worst hit sectors in the region, as escalating confrontations between the police and anti-government protestors have kept visitors, particularly from Mainland China, away.
Tourism is a major driver of the economy, accounting for roughly four per cent of Hong Kong’s GDP and employing some 257,000 workers, according to 2017 government data.
“(The) impact on tourism and its related sectors have been deep and negative,” Scott McKnight, managing editor for China Open Research Network, told CTV’s Your Morning.
He noted that the airport was running roughly 40 per cent fewer flights at this time of the year compared to the previous year, and hotel occupancy was about 60 per cent emptier.
“The big cause of this is because mainlanders — that is Chinese from the mainland — account for about three of every four tourists who visit Hong Kong … so the impact has been far reaching.”
Tourism data for September showed a 35 per cent drop in tourists from mainland China compared with a year ago and an overall 34 per cent drop in total visitors to Hong Kong.
Visitors from Canada fell 26.2 per cent over the same period.
The Canadian government advises travellers to “exercise a high degree of caution” due to the large-scale demonstrations that have become “more frequent and less predictable.”
The Chinese-ruled territory saw some of its most intense showdowns in recent days as police armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon clashed with masked protestors throwing petrol bombs and rocks. Some of the fiercest confrontations took place in the tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and on university campuses.
Parts of Polytechnic University were engulfed in flames as demonstrators battled with police who lay siege on the campus over the weekend, arresting over 1,000 people. Some tried escaping down ropes hanging over a footbridge to getaway vehicles below, a police spokesman said in a news conference.
Meanwhile, Canadian universities including McGill, UBC, and Calgary have strongly advised its exchange students currently in Hong Kong to leave, particularly as their university counterparts look to end the semester early and in some cases have closed the campus. McGill has 22 students studying in exchange programs, according to the university, and most are leaving Hong Kong. UBC said it has 32 students on exchange programs in the city.
The nearly six month long stand-off began in protest of the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill, amid concerns it could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and its independent judiciary. While the bill has been withdrawn, protests have continued amid demands including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police conduct during the protests. A “one country, two systems” principle has governed the semi-autonomous territory since its return to China in 1997, but there has been growing concern over China’s creeping interference.
With the conflict showing no signs of abating, some hotels have slashed prices, airlines and retailers are cutting its guidance or reporting substantial drops in sales.
The Hong Kong government forecast its gross domestic product would contract 1.3 per cent this year from a year ago, its first contraction in a decade.
The region officially entered a technical recession in the third quarter.
McKnight said the financial and real estate sectors have been relatively unscathed so far, even as companies like Goldman Sachs have estimated that as much as US$4 billion in investment money have shifted from Hong Kong to Singapore.
This could change, however, he said, noting that Chinese mainland banks and international financial institutions have billions of dollars invested in Hong Kong.
Some 300,000 Canadians call Hong Kong their home, making it one of the largest Canadian communities abroad.
“This is very much a case of avoiding all essential travel to Hong Kong,” said McKnight.
“If in fact you get into some type of trouble, if some type of violence breaks out in Hong Kong and you are there, there is very, very little actually the Canadian government can do in your defence. So let’s be very honest here, avoiding all essential travel is vital here.”