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Hong Kong tourism witnesses worse plummet since SARS outbreak

Hong Kong Airport (Siqbal/WikiCommons)
September 17, 2019

Hong Kong’s tourism industry is being dealt a severe blow by the ongoing protests in the city, which are now in their 15th week.

According to new reports from multiple news organizations, including Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, tourist arrivals to the city plummeted by almost 40% in August from one year earlier.

That’s the most significant year-on-year decline since May 2003, when the SARS epidemic was impacting Hong Kong and visitation dropped by 70%.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan placed the blame for the current decline squarely on the continuing protests.

“The local social events of the past few months, especially the continuous violent shocks, blocking airports and roads have severely damaged Hong Kong’s international image as a safe city, trade, aviation, and financial center, and have also hit the local economy, including tourism. The impact on the retail and hospitality sectors is particularly severe,” Chan wrote in a blog posted on Sunday.

Hotel occupancy rates in some areas fell by more than half in August, Chan wrote, bringing room rates down by between 40% to 70%.

“In particular, repeated violent shocks, blockages, obstruction of major transportation infrastructure such as the MTR and the airport have not only hindered the repatriation of students, their travel and family trips, but also greatly affected international conferences, exhibitions, and events. There have been many meetings and business trips that have been postponed and even moved to other places,” Chan said in his blog post.

Perhaps the most worrying fact, said Chan, is that there does not seem to be any promise for improvement ahead.

The protests do not show any sign of stopping even though Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has formally withdrawn the extradition bill that initially triggered the movement.

Based on August 2018 tourism figures, a 40% drop amounts to about 3.5 million visitors, the lowest level in more than seven years, Bloomberg reported.

Chan urged in his blog that in order to get Hong Kong out of its current situation as soon as possible, everyone must negotiate pragmatically and find a way out.

“One country, two systems is the fundamental system for the successful development of Hong Kong. The Basic Law guarantees the freedom and rights of the people. It also guarantees social order, public property, and personal safety,” said Chan. “We cannot tolerate violence and undermine social peace. Sustained violence will erode Hong Kong’s core values and institutional advantages.”


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