The Hong Kong Tourism Board has launched a set of hygiene standards for businesses in the sector to build the city’s image as a safe travel destination during the coronavirus pandemic.
The rules include requiring restaurants to ensure enough ventilation to change their air six times per hour, staff at eateries and retail shops handling cash to clean their hands or change their gloves before performing other duties, and hotels to disinfect lift buttons every two hours during the day. The standards were drafted with reference to health authorities’ recommendations and how firms operate on a regular basis.
Companies deemed in compliance with the measures will be certified, allowing them to display the scheme’s logo.
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The board, which co-launched the programme with the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency on Thursday, said more than 1,800 businesses had already expressed an interest in registering, including Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, as well as shopping malls.
“Many international travel and tourism organisations have already put in place hygiene and anti-epidemic guidelines, and standardising hygiene measures for each sector can spread to visitors the message that different sectors across Hong Kong value their commitment to hygiene and safety,” board chairman Pang Yiu-kai said.
Under the programme, a list of 10 guidelines would be issued for different types of businesses in the industry, such as hotels, restaurants, retailers, shopping malls and inbound tour operators.
Some suggested measures might look similar to ones already proposed by other organisations, said board deputy executive director Becky Ip.
“But when the messages delivered had some difference in some wordings, then travellers and the public may get confused,” Ip said. “So the most important thing is to have a set of simple and clear guidelines.”
The board budgeted HK$10 million (US$1.29 million) to market the scheme and sponsor application fees for qualified businesses. The certification would last one year, although that could change in the future.
The application period, which began on Thursday, would at first cover shopping malls, hotels, attractions, inbound tour operators, and about 8,000 retail and catering outlets under the Quality Tourism Services Scheme, which recognises high standards of product quality and service.
The new programme would later be extended to cover other sectors including but not limited to cross-boundary coach companies and local coach firms, as well as conventions and meeting venues.
The board hopes to make the first recognitions by November at the earliest.
The Quality Assurance Agency said more than 100 workers would carry out random inspections to check whether the accredited businesses were following the rules.
Ting Kwok-to, the agency’s strategic services development director, said if businesses were found to be in breach of the rules, they would be given time – usually two weeks – to make the necessary changes before another check was carried out. Firms that still failed to meet the standards could be delisted.
The board quoted Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a government health adviser, as welcoming the guidelines, saying they would encourage more eateries to achieve a minimum of six air changes per hour – which he had long advocated.
If eateries could not meet the ventilation criteria, they would need to install air purifiers.
Simon Wong Kit-lung, chairman of the Quality Tourism Services Association, said most restaurants could achieve that standard, while an air purifying machine would cost between HK$2,000 (US$258) to HK$3,000.
Industry leaders were discussing with the government whether resources in the coronavirus relief package could be used to help businesses buy the machines.
“Over the past six months, I have learned that hygiene conditions are a priority for customers in picking which restaurant to visit,” Wong said.
Dr Jennifer Cronin, president at Wharf Hotels Management, also voiced support for the scheme although the measures would mean businesses would have to bear additional cost.
“If we can tell the world that we are coming up with these new initiatives, it’s going to build confidence in choosing Hong Kong over other destinations,” Cronin said.
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