Hong Kong’s tourist arrival numbers have gone into free fall this month, dropping to a daily average of below 3,000 from about 100,000 in January, after temporary cross-border restrictions were put in place to fight the unfolding coronavirus outbreak.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board revealed on Friday that the number of mainland Chinese visitors, who accounted for as much as 80 per cent of the city’s total arrivals before the outbreak of the disease now named Covid-19, fell to a daily average of 750 in February.
In January, there were 53 per cent fewer visitors, at 3.2 million, in Hong Kong compared with the same month last year.
This means a daily average of 100,000 people visited the city in January, half the daily average of 200,000 in the first half of 2019. China and short-haul markets such as Taiwan and South Korea were hit hardest, with a drop of more than 50 per cent.
As the outbreak deepened in late January, many airlines suspended or reduced flights to Hong Kong while the government shut down all but three of the 12 border checkpoints. The only checkpoints still operating are Hong Kong International Airport on Lantau Island, Shenzhen Bay Port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
As a result, the city’s average daily arrivals dropped from 130,000 in the lead up to the Lunar New Year holiday on January 25 to 65,000 in late January and 3,000 in February.
Last Saturday, a 14-day mandatory quarantine scheme to tackle the deadly coronavirus took effect.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said at the time the quarantine measures had “drastically reduced” cross-border traffic.
The board said it would closely monitor the latest developments and adjust its work and strategies to ensure a timely response to changes.
As of Friday, Hong Kong had 56 confirmed cases of the infection, with one related fatality. There have been at least 64,400 cases across the border, where the death toll jumped to 1,380, mainly in Hubei province, the outbreak epicentre.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said inbound and outbound tourism were both hit hard, unlike in 2003 when the city was battling an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). During the Sars period, there were still some outbound travellers.
“This situation is unseen in history,” he said. “If the coronavirus outbreak cannot be contained soon, the poor tourist arrival situation will prevail at least until the end of March.”
Yiu added that the industry had been grappling with a tourist downturn since July last year because of anti-government protests in the city.
Meanwhile, the cross-boundary coach industry has called on the government to rescue the sector, which it said is in dire straits.
A trade body said coaches had made “zero income” because of the closure of most of the Hong Kong’s ports and a drastic reduction in cross-border travel.
In a letter to Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, the Hong Kong and Macau Boundary Crossing Bus Association said it hoped the government could offer a one-off grant of HK$150,000 to HK$200,000 and an insurance subsidy of up to Hk$5,000 for each coach to help businesses with operating costs and handle the loss of income.
“The cross-boundary coach industry is one of the hardest hit sectors by the epidemic outbreak. Therefore, we propose the relief measures for the sector in the hope of easing the dire straits of cross-border coaches,” it said.
Additional reporting by Cannix Yau