Hong Kong extradition bill protests begin to bite as city records drop in short-haul travellers

Denise Tsang

Short-haul visitor numbers to Hong Kong dropped sharply this month as the city began to feel the impact of the ongoing protests against the extradition bill.

Latest figures showed visits by tourists from Asia, excluding those from mainland China, dropped 3.3 per cent between July 1 and July 5, year on year.

While the Hong Kong Tourism Board said tourists arrivals overall grew 4.2 per cent for the same period, that represented the lowest weekly growth since the middle of June.

On Friday, Anthony Lau Chun-hon, the board’s outgoing chief executive, said June’s tourist arrivals, which jumped 8.5 per cent from the same period last year, still reflected the impact of the US-China trade war.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in a series of marches in Hong Kong against the controversial extradition bill, blocking roads and disrupting business in the process. Photo: Dickson Lee

“There were fewer visitors coming from the mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea since June, which might be because of fast information flow [on the protests],” he said. “The forward booking of air flights and hotels and other tours in Hong Kong will be challenging in the next couple of months.”

In the first six months, the city’s total tourist arrivals soared 13.9 per cent to 34.87 million. The board estimated the full year’s total this year will be a fresh record of 65.1 million.

Hong Kong protests will put off 350,000 mainland Chinese tourists this year, HSBC estimates

Since June, Hong Kong has been rocked by a series of protests, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to march against the now-suspended legislation.

Most of the marches started in the prime shopping district of Causeway Bay and ended in the tourist and governmental district of Admiralty, with roads blocked and business disrupted.

On July 1, when the city celebrated the 22nd anniversary of its return to China, thousands of protesters stormed the Legislative Council building in Admiralty, and vandalised its facade and key facilities. The incident, which made international headlines, left the legislature shut for at least four months.

The bill would have allowed criminal suspects to be transferred from Hong Kong to jurisdictions the city does not have any extradition agreement with, including mainland China.

The number of mainland visitors, who accounted for 79 per cent of the city’s total, surged 16.4 per cent to 27.55 million in the first half of this year, compared with the same period last year.

Tourist visits surge by nearly a fifth to 6 million in May, driven by mainland Chinese holidays

Although mainland visitors kept coming to Hong Kong during the period, 62 per cent of them came on one-day trips and spent relatively less. More bad news is those mainland visitors who stayed overnight spent 18.5 per cent less in the first half of this year due to the combined effect of the depreciation of the yuan against the Hong Kong dollar, the impact of the trade war and changing spending patterns.

“This is the sharpest drop in record,” Lau said. As a result, the overall tourists’ spending was down 13.6 per cent to HK$6,010 (US$769) per person per trip in the first half of the year.

Mainland Chinese tourists pictured at Times Square, Causeway Bay. Photo: Edmond So

Hoteliers felt anxious about advance booking for the rest of summer as the protests showed no sign of abating, according to internal findings of 60 per cent of the 160-member Hong Kong Hotels Association, which the Post obtained.

Some members of the industry body, who operate in districts at the heart of the protests, such as Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty, were affected in terms of bookings for events and food and beverage services.

“The longer the political unrest drags on, the worse off the tourism industry will be,” a hospitality expert said.

Protesters gathered outside the West Kowloon Station, after a march from Tsim Sha Tsui on July 7. They had tried to relay their message to mainland Chinese tourists using the high-speed cross-border rail link. Photo: Sam Tsang

In the first five months of the year, Hong Kong hotels were on average 90 per cent full, or 1 percentage point higher than the same period last year, according to the board. This was despite the fact that the number of hotel rooms in the city grew 4 per cent during the period.

The city’s average room rate climbed 0.6 per cent to HK$1,364 in the five-month period.

Unfriendly welcome and poor service puts tourism revenue at risk

Pang Yiu-kai, the board’s chairman, said it would continue marketing Hong Kong overseas to show the city was a safe place to visit.

He said major events such as the e-sports festival, cyclothon, and Wine & Dine Festival, were scheduled for the coming months.

Lau said the trade war between the United States and China continued to hit business travel, with long haul visitors numbers down 4.1 per cent in June from the same month last year.

This article Hong Kong extradition bill protests begin to bite as city records drop in short-haul travellers first appeared on South China Morning Post

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