Extradition protests hammer Hong Kong economy as experts report drops in air travel, retail sales and hotel revenue

Danny Lee

Flight bookings from Asian countries to Hong Kong have dropped 5.4 per cent in the past month, as waves of extradition protests rocked the city and gave potential visitors reason for concern.

The decrease in air travel, revealed to the Post on Wednesday, was another sign of the negative economic effects brought by the ongoing mass protests – including drops in mainland Chinese tourists, hotel occupancy and retail sales.

The New Zealand government on Wednesday urged its citizens to monitor Hong Kong media for news on protests and to comply with city authorities. New Zealand advised nationals in the city to avoid rallies and demonstrations, noting “violent clashes” had taken place.

“While the numbers do not look good, things are not all bad for Hong Kong’s visitor economy,” said Olivier Ponti, vice-president of the business intelligence group ForwardKeys.

“So far, the adverse media coverage of the demonstrations has not caused an overall decline in long-haul bookings to Hong Kong and the number of Asian bookings made in [all of 2019] is still ahead of those made during the same time period in 2018 – although growth has slowed substantially since the mass protest of June 16.”

If the conflicts continue, the growth rate will continue to drop in the latter half of this year

Yiu Si-wing, tourism sector lawmaker

Data compiled by ForwardKeys showed that between June 16 and July 13 flight bookings to Hong Kong from Asian destinations – except mainland China and Taiwan – were down 5.4 per cent from the same period in 2018.

That time period followed a protest on June 9 that drew a turnout of 1 million people, and violent clashes between protesters and police – who used tear gas, pepper spray and beanbag rounds – on June 12. On June 16, an estimated 2 million people joined another march against the unpopular extradition bill, which has since been suspended.

From June 15 to June 29, according to ForwardKeys, bookings to Hong Kong slumped by 9 per cent. The sharp drop erased growth in the first 6½ months of the year, which saw bookings increase by 6.6 per cent from last year at the same time.

ForwardKeys warned another downturn in travel bookings was possible.

The extradition bill would have allowed Hong Kong to transfer suspects to jurisdictions with which it lacks official handover agreements, including mainland China. Critics feared it would remove the legal firewall between the city and the mainland, exposing suspects to opaque trials across the border.

Travellers at the departure hall of Hong Kong International Airport. A drop in bookings to Hong Kong is another sign of the economic damage unleashed by weeks of mass protests. Photo: Roy Issa

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the impact of the protests on the city’s tourism industry was obvious.

He said the average growth of tourist arrivals to Hong Kong was 13 per cent in the first six months of the year – but the rate in June was 8 per cent and over the first five days of July was only 4 per cent.

“If the conflicts continue, the growth rate will continue to drop in the latter half of this year. The figures might even decrease,” he said.

Yiu said the downturn was mainly from the clashes between protesters and police – rather than the protests themselves.

“Hong Kong has hundreds of peaceful protests every year. It is the conflicts and bloodshed that have made tourists feel insecure and worried about travelling to the city,” he said.

Hong Kong’s hotel sector, meanwhile, reported the average occupancy rate dropped by 3 to 5 per cent in June compared with the same period last year, and overall revenue in June dropped 10 per cent.

It is the conflicts and bloodshed that have made tourists feel insecure and worried about their travel to the city

Yiu Si-wing, tourism sector lawmaker

According to Yiu, tourist agencies had seen more people from mainland China and overseas cancelling study and business tours over fears their schedule would be affected by protests. He said some agencies charged a cancellation rate of 20 to 30 per cent.

On Tuesday, HSBC cut its forecast for growth in mainland Chinese tourist arrivals into Hong Kong this year to 9 per cent, shaving off 0.7 per cent because of the citywide protests.

The bank said in a report the ongoing turmoil would put off an estimated 350,000 tourists from the mainland.

Last year, 51 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong, according to the Tourism Board.

The latest figures from January to May showed growth of 17.5 per cent – or 23.5 million tourists – compared with 2018.

Visitor arrivals from Asia, excluding mainland China and Macau, grew 4.3 per cent over the same period – to 3.3 million.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association said on Tuesday that a majority of its members reported single- to double-digit drops in sales revenue during the protest period including June and the first week of July.

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