Hong Kong’s 2020 Lunar New Year parade replaced by carnival over safety fears for protest-hit route

Lilian Cheng

The Lunar New Year parade will be replaced by a carnival after organisers said the route through a protest-hit part of Hong Kong was “too risky”.

It is the first time the event – a highlight of one of the city’s biggest festivals scheduled for January 25 – will not be held since its launch in 1996.

Meanwhile, the tourism board said that next month’s countdown for New Year’s Eve would go ahead, but on a smaller scale than on previous occasions. In a break from the norm, it will not have any sponsors.

The December 31 event is set to include fireworks, but not the performances staged along Canton Road in southern Kowloon as in past years.

In 2019, the parade was held on February 5, but the celebrations will be in the form of a static carnival instead for 2020. Photo: Edmond So

For next year’s festivities, a four-day carnival will be held at an unconfirmed site in the city, running from the first to the fourth day of the Lunar New Year, which next year falls between January 25 and 28.

The decision by the Hong Kong Tourism Board follows a flurry of cancellations of major events in the city, such as music festival Clockenflap and the Cyclothon, on the back of often-violent protests roiling the city for nearly six months.

Performances from international acts, as well as food stalls and booth games, will be staged in place of the street parade, which was due to weave through Tsim Sha Tsui, the epicentre of much of the protest-related violence in recent months.

The spokeswoman for the tourism board said the Lunar New Year celebrations were not being cancelled but presented in a new format.

“Instead of a street parade, a four-day carnival with a spectacular parade of dazzling performances by local and international performers will be held to celebrate Chinese New Year,” she said.

Organisers of the Hong Kong Sevens are said to be ‘positive’ about the international event running as planned next April. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The Hong Kong Sevens, another popular international event hosted by the city, was likely to go ahead as planned from April 3 to 5, according to the tourism board.

The board said the organisers of the rugby tournament were in town last week to evaluate the situation in Hong Kong and “felt quite positive afterwards”.

Top Hong Kong music festival Clockenflap cancelled as protests intensify

Dane Cheng, executive director of the tourism board, described the carnival as a key element of a refreshed programme of Lunar New Year festivities, in celebration of the board’s 25th anniversary.

The planned route for the parade in Tsim Sha Tsui – especially along Canton Road and Nathan Road – was “too risky to accommodate crowds and maintain public order”, he said.

“Our new event is better because locals and tourists will have longer to enjoy the event in a safer location, compared with a parade that would last just a few hours,” Cheng added.

A fireworks display to celebrate the Lunar New Year is seen over Victoria Harbour in February 2019. Photo: Nora Tam

The Lunar New Year night parade has been one of the most important events in Hong Kong’s cultural calendar since 1996, drawing thousands of locals and tourists, as well an array of international performers.

Cathay Pacific, the city’s flagship airline, has been the title sponsor.

Discussions were held about cancelling the parade in 2018, with the Tai Po bus tragedy that killed 19 coming just a week earlier, but the board decided to proceed.

Emotionally, we would like to uphold the tradition.

Dane Cheng, on the New Year’s Eve countdown

The New Year’s Eve countdown was planned as usual for December 31, Cheng said, with high hopes that fireworks would again light up the sky above Victoria Harbour.

“For the world every year, we see Sydney, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan [hold fireworks displays]. Emotionally, we would like to uphold the tradition,” Cheng said.

But he said there would have to be discussions and assessments in advance with police and the Transport Department before the display could proceed.

Any serious chaos or instability would force the fireworks to be cancelled, Cheng said, because public safety was crucial.

Dane Cheng, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, says any serious chaos would lead to the cancellation of the fireworks due to be held on December 31. Photo: Handout

The city’s tourism industry has been badly hit over the past few months, with the number of inbound travellers dropping around 40 per cent since August, compared with the same period last year.

Cheng said they hoped to reverse the tide but that depended on whether the city returned to calm after the district council elections.

The board is set to meet representatives from the food and beverages, hotel, and retail sectors to see if they could join forces in running promotions.

Concert of Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou postponed amid protests

“It is still hard to estimate the city’s situation during Christmas and the new year, so any events planned could just hope for the best,” said lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who is also a director of China Travel Service.

“Events that could be successfully held would serve as a shot in the arm, because it would prove to tourists that Hong Kong is getting back on track,” he said.

Yiu noted numerous events had been cancelled including the Wine and Dine Festival, Formula E-Prix and National Day fireworks in the last few months.

Ricky Tse Kam-ting, the Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators Association’s founding president, said tourists from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia had expressed to him a lack of confidence in travelling to Hong Kong.

“It would be a pity that the parade cannot carry on, as it would signal to tourists that Hong Kong is returning to normal, but I understand the government has its concerns, and a carnival is therefore acceptable,” Tse said.

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