Hong Kong removes quarantine for visitors, but still they don’t come

Travelers to Hong Kong no longer have to quarantine in a hotel but the expected flood tourists is barely a drip.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By ZHANG Xilong

 

Hong Kong remained quiet during the National Day Holiday, usually the biggest travel week of the year. At the airport, more people were leaving than arriving.

The city lifted hotel quarantine requirements on September 26. Travelers now only need to spend three days at home, during which they are free to move around but cannot enter crowded venues such as restaurants or bars. Previously they had to quarantine in a hotel for three days. There has been a slight uptick in imported cases since then, but overall case counts remain low.

The good times have flown

All COVID entry restrictions should be gone by November, in line with neighboring Southeast Asian countries. International sports and industry events are lined up in the next two months, and Hong Kong Tourism Board will spend HK$100 million (90 million yuan, US$13 million) to welcome visitors back.

Outbound tourists outnumber incoming. About 70 percent of those flying out are Hong Kong residents. In a recent poll, 30 percent of responders said they plan to travel outside Hong Kong by the end of the year. Dane Cheng, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said it might be months before tourists return in large numbers.

The aviation industry is operating at less than 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with severe staff and funding shortages. Cathay Pacific has slashed staff by 40 percent and plans to hire 4,000 workers in the next 18 to 24 months, including 2,000 crew.

From October 4, crew members have not had to go through any kind of quarantine, but have to test negative every day of their stay. The government imagines this will encourage airlines to return to normal, but the closure of Russian air space will slow recovery.

End all restrictions now

The industry has called for the removal of all entry restrictions. The city lifted a ban on cruise ships on October 6. On the same day, restaurants were allowed to seat 12 people per table from the previous 8. Crowd control measures at bars and nightclubs were also loosened.

Once fully reopened, Hong Kong will face stiff competition. Japan and South Korea have removed entry restrictions. In the fits, four days of October, 120,000 visitors descended upon Macau.