Tourist arrivals in October take sharpest plunge since Hong Kong’s anti-government protests began

Denise Tsang

The slump in tourist arrivals to Hong Kong worsened in October after nearly six months of escalating violence in anti-government protests, closing in on figures not seen since May 2003, when the city was plagued by an outbreak of Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

According to the latest figures by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, there were 3.31 million arrivals in October this year, a decline of 43.7 per cent from the same month in 2018.

When Sars hit the city 16 years ago, tourist arrivals in the month of May fell more than 60 per cent from the same period the previous year.

The drop in arrivals for October was also the worst decline in a single month since the city’s anti-government protests began about six months ago.

A cleaner seen at Park Lane Shopper's Boulevard in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Nora Tam

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah told the Post that tourist arrivals for the rest of this year “would not be good”.

“The path to recovery will depend on when violence will subside,” he said.

In the first 10 months of this year, the number of visitor arrivals fell 4.7 per cent to 50 million from the same period last year.

Visitor numbers from mainland China plummeted to 2.5 million arrivals in October, down 45.9 per cent from the previous month, as tourists from across the border shunned what was usually their top destination to spend the seven-day “golden week” National Day holiday at the beginning of the month.

Police use pepper spray as protesters at lunchtime rallies say their fight is far from over

Mainland visitors accounted for 78 per cent of the city’s total arrivals in the first 10 months of this year.

Hong Kong has been rocked by anti-government protests, sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, since June. The demonstrations have increasingly descended into violence, especially since October 5, when a government ban on wearing masks during public assemblies took effect.

Demonstrations have frequently descended into chaos, with radical protesters hurling petrol bombs or bricks at riot police. Public facilities, metro stations and businesses with links to the mainland have been attacked and vandalised. Police officers have also fired tear gas, pepper spray, and even live rounds at protesters.

Tourist districts such as Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Jordan are frequently affected.

About 40 countries or regions have so far issued travel warning or alerts for travellers heading to Hong Kong.

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing estimated the decline in November’s tourist arrival figures would remain at a similar level with that of October’s.

“Protests appear to be smaller and violence seems to have eased in the past few days,” he said. “If this persists, there is a good chance visitors from southern China cities may return in the near term.”

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