Two major Hong Kong events scheduled for later in October have been cancelled because of safety risks posed by the ongoing anti-government protests, with critics saying the move will deal another blow to the city’s global reputation.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board announced on Thursday that the annual Cyclothon and Wine & Dine Festival would be called off, meaning a total of three top global events would be cancelled by the board because of protests that started in June over the now-shelved extradition bill.
The cycling event was scrapped after the organiser of the Hammer Series, which features some of the world’s top cyclists, decided not to come to the city. The event was to be held along the Tsim Sha Tsui East promenade along with two races for local riders on October 13.
The four-day Wine & Dine festival was originally planned for October 31 at Central Harbourfront, right next to the government headquarters – a prime site for protests.
“The decision to cancel the Cyclothon and Wine & Dine Festival was certainly not an easy one. The two events enjoy huge popularity among local residents and visitors, and great support from local and international partners, sponsors and exhibitors,” the board’s chairman Pang Yiu-kai said.
“However, in view of unforeseen circumstances in the coming weeks, it would be challenging to us to ensure the smooth running of the two events, so we have decided to cancel both.”
The board apologised for the inconvenience caused by the cancellations.
The Cyclothon race was expected to draw about 10,000 participants while the turnout for the Wine & Dine event was projected to be more than 140,000.
In June, the board abandoned the dragon boat carnival as the roiling protest movement erupted in Hong Kong. Other events that were called off include the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open in early October and the Clearwater Bay Open, which was supposed to start on October 17 at the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club.
The extradition bill, which the government promised on September 4 to formally withdraw, would have allowed criminal suspects to be transferred to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which the city does not have such agreements.
Despite the withdrawal, clashes between protesters and police have continued with no signs of stopping.
The board explained that the Cyclothon routes covered a number of major roads, tunnels and bridges and it was concerned it would not have enough time to set up the race if there were protests the night before.
According to the board, the Wine & Dine festival, which normally draws about 10,000 visitors at any given time would encounter difficulties and risks in evacuating participants if there were conflicts in the area.
The board said participants and exhibitors of the two cancelled events would have their enrolment fees refunded and would receive a 20 per cent discount next year.
“As regards to the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival, depending on the feasibility of an appropriate time and venue, we are diligently exploring how to organise a similar event in the first half of next year so locals and visitors can enjoy this highly anticipated culinary event twice next year,” Pang said.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said he was disappointed by the cancellations.
“The cancellations send a bad message to global travellers,” he said. “This means few choices for tourists and it hurts the city’s image as a global destination for tourists.”
Yiu said the cancellations were yet another blow to Hong Kong tourism, which has been hit hard by months of protests. Tourist arrivals plunged 40 per cent in August, the sharpest decline since the Sars – severe acute respiratory syndrome – outbreak in 2003.
A woman surnamed Lee, who had signed up for the Cyclothon’s 50km race, said: “I am very disappointed it is cancelled. I have been practising for months for it.
“The government is failing. It is not responding to people’s political demands, now that the city is in chaos. Even normal sports events are affected.”
Additional reporting by Gary Cheung