Coronavirus: as barriers to movement rise, Hong Kong travel agencies pull plug on international tour groups

Kanis Leung

Tens of thousands of Hongkongers have seen their holiday plans scrapped as the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across Asia, Europe and America, with two major Hong Kong travel agencies pulling the plug on international tours.

The Travel Industry Council said on Tuesday that more than 4,400 tour groups had been called off as of Monday afternoon, affecting nearly 140,000 travellers.

It warned that the government’s plan to extend a red travel alert to all foreign countries would result in outbound travel agencies’ business grinding to a halt, sparking calls from the industry for fresh relief measures to avoid a wave of company closures.

Under new travel curbs, arrivals to Hong Kong from any overseas nation from Thursday will be put under 14-day home quarantine or medical surveillance.

The new restrictions do not apply to arrivals from Macau or Taiwan, while those coming in from mainland China have been subject to mandatory quarantine since last month.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah noted that the tourism industry was at a “most difficult stage”.

“It’s not only Hong Kong, different parts of the world have also tried their best to ask their residents to reduce outbound travelling,” Yau said.

“So the tourism industry in Hong Kong and the whole world is facing a freeze.”

He said the government had been in close contact with the industry and under a HK$30 billion (US$3.85 billion) relief package unveiled last month, almost 90 per cent of some 1,700 travel agencies had already received subsidies.

More than 500 guest houses also got cash from the scheme, he added.

Meanwhile, Wing On Travel scrapped all tours from Tuesday to April 30 to safeguard the health of customers and staff. Affected customers can change to other tours later, keep their payments with the firm for a year while making new plans, or seek a refund minus administrative fees.

WWPKG Holdings has axed all tours through April 15, mainly involving travellers to Japan next month. It said a relatively small number of customers were affected as numerous tour groups had already been cancelled ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

On possible compensation, the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers said travellers should approach their airlines, travel agencies or hotels first for a refund.

It said, in usual cases, those who had taken out travel insurance before the issuance of the red travel alert could claim back half of the amount, subject to the terms and conditions of the individual policy.

Over the past three months, local travel agencies have scrambled to cope with increasing travel curbs in Hong Kong and across the world.

So far, tour groups to popular holiday destinations including mainland China, South Korea, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have been cancelled.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were over 179,200 infection cases globally, including more than 7,100 fatalities.

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing predicted the income for some of the city’s travel agencies could drop to zero amid the travel curbs and slashing of airline flight schedules.

“What else can they do? There are no [travellers] who need hotels, transports or visa,” Yiu said of the tour agents.

He said travel firms could only dip into existing resources to stay afloat or attempt to generate local tourism opportunities.

“But the money earned would not be able to sustain the living of many people,” he said.

This article Coronavirus: as barriers to movement rise, Hong Kong travel agencies pull plug on international tour groups first appeared on South China Morning Post

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