Droves of overseas students returning to Hong Kong have driven up occupancy rates at hotels designated for mandatory Covid-19 quarantine to as high as 90 per cent, even after the government raised supply, the Post has learned.
The Food and Health Bureau on Tuesday night said that 33 designated hotels with some 9,000 rooms were about 90 per cent booked on average between June 20 and July 19, a rate higher than the 69 per cent rate for 30 hotels between April 21 and June 19.
After adding two hotels, or 500 rooms, to the list last week, the bureau said it could release another 2,000 rooms to bring the total supply to more than 11,000 rooms between June 20 and August 31 if demand warranted.
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Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the city was facing a severe shortage of quarantine rooms during the summer months as overseas students return to Hong Kong.
“A lot of the rooms in the coming months are already pre-booked, and the current hotels on the list can’t accommodate any more guests,” Yiu said.
At present, inbound travellers must confirm a booking with a designated hotel for quarantine before they are allowed to fly into Hong Kong. The quarantine periods vary and last for a maximum of 21 days.
I felt so helpless, because there was no consolidated platform to show how full all the hotels were
Stella Fung, 28
Returning resident Stella Fung, 28, who had been in the United States for an academic exchange programme, tried different strategies to fight for a room for her and her boyfriend for their return to the city on Tuesday.
This included contacting hotels from the bottom of a hotel list released by the government, instead of top-down.
“I felt so helpless, because there was no consolidated platform to show how full all the hotels were,” said Fung, who works in the fintech industry.
Four days after the government announced the 31 designated hotels on May 20, she made a booking at Four Points by Sheraton Hong Kong in Tung Chung. But the hotel said two days later that her reservation failed due to a system glitch.
Fung, who is vaccinated, eventually managed to get a 14-day isolation package priced at HK$35,000 (US$4,500) at the Kerry Hotel in Hung Hom with the help of a friend who had earlier held a wedding there and was able to put her in contact with a salesperson.
“There is an obvious mismatch between the authorities’ estimated number of arrivals in the city and the supply of hotel rooms,” she said. “Apparently, there are not enough rooms.”
Despite the heavy demand, room prices have remained about the same, according to lawmaker Yiu. He added that the government had focused on adding mid-range priced rooms, costing about HK$1,000 to HK$2,000 per night, when the new list was updated to accommodate more guests.
A check by the Post through a list of 33 hotels on Wednesday found only the Crowne Plaza Hong Kong Causeway Bay had rooms available in early July. For example, a room on July 5 was priced at HK$1,988 per night.
Twelve others would be available from the middle of July, with some single-person rooms costing under HK$1,000 at facilities such as the Regal Oriental Hotel and Regal Airport Hotel. The rest could become available in late July or August.
But several hotels stated they were already full between June and August due to high demand from returning overseas students and families.
Ovolo Southside in Wong Chuk Hang has consistently reached 90 per cent occupancy since the start of the year as a designated quarantine accommodation and is currently fully booked until the end of July, said its acting chief operating officer Marc Hediger. The occupancy rate for August was also already about 80 to 90 per cent and some guests have already started to inquire about September bookings.
Most of the guests looking to stay at the 160-room property were travelling from Australia, Britain, France, South Korea and the US.
Hediger described the booking situation akin to “playing a game of Tetris” in trying to fit 21, 14 or 7-day blocks for quarantine guests.
“From the guest side, juggling flight and hotel bookings is difficult, as there might be flights available but no rooms, or rooms available but no flights,” he said.
“With July and August being peak summer and many vaccinated families now coming to Hong Kong for summer holiday to take advantage of the shorter quarantine, we are seeing an influx of demands and room requirements not seen in the first half of the year,” Hediger said.
“This includes requests such as more premium room types, larger room types, connecting rooms, and more,” he added. “The current hotel room offerings are simply not enough to cope with this sudden rise in demand for more and larger rooms.”
Nina Hotel Island South, with 432 rooms, was also running at maximum capacity, with about 80 per cent occupancy from June to August, according to its general manager Cissy Choi.
Choi added that incoming guests had placed their quarantine stay bookings around one to two months in advance for the June to August period.
Post reporter Eduardo Baptista, who needed to return to the city from Portugal for work, started searching two months ago for a quarantine stay for the period of June 7 to 28. But he said hotels did not accept his booking because the approved list at that time only ran until June 19.
Baptista finally ended his struggle and secured a room after moving his flight to June 19 and starting his isolation the next day. “It was a complete nightmare,” he said.
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