The extension of restrictions on movement in and out of Hong Kong has not stopped travel agencies from making preparations for the day when tourism can finally return, while Covid-19 continues to stifle the industry.
Hong Thai Travel Services is already offering 20 per cent discounts for its “early bird packages” starting from September to the first quarter of 2021, to far-flung destinations such as Dubai and Slovenia.
“We hope to use more attractive prices to get people to make bookings at an earlier date,” said Cherie Fong, Hong Thai’s spokeswoman. “We’re stepping up promotions so that when the borders start opening up, we’ll be able to do business again and improve the situation in the industry.”
The Hong Kong government on Tuesday said the legal framework for compulsory quarantine would be extended until July 7 for travellers from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, and September 18 for arrivals from elsewhere. The indefinite ban on non-residents flying into Hong Kong from abroad would also continue.
The relaxation of border controls and 14-day quarantine measures would be the trigger for the revival of the industry in Hong Kong, said Lily Agonoy, managing director of Jebsen Holidays.
“Right now we’re not allowing any foreigners into Hong Kong. If the outbreak comes under control, business will slowly come back to the tourism industry,” said Agonoy.
The way people travel after Covid-19 will be different, and they may want to go to nearby places where the outbreak of the virus is controlled so they feel safer, she added.
“For people in Hong Kong, the first place they may want to go to will be Macau, when Hong Kong removes the 14-day quarantine. If I want to go to Macau for two days but I need to be quarantined afterwards for 14-days, that won’t happen.”
First to open up their borders may be places in the Greater Bay Area, which includes Hong Kong, Macau and nine other cities in Guangdong province, said Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, executive director and co-founder of Hong Kong-listed travel agency EGL Tours.
“This would benefit Hong Kong and Macau’s tourism sector, as other places around the world are still relatively high risk in terms of the Covid-19 situation,” he said. “If Hong Kong and Macau are the first to open their borders, then the recovery of their tourism industries may be the fastest, in terms of inbound tourism.”
Ronald Wu, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents and executive director of travel agency Gray Line Tours of Hong Kong, also expects the first wave of travellers will flow between Hong Kong and Macau.
The travel agency has been making plans to partner with passenger ferry services and tourist attraction operators in both cities to offer short term travel packages for Hong Kong and Macau travellers, once borders between the two cities open up again.
“We are planning different types of tours and individual travel schemes with discounts. For the summer, we will provide discount packages for families who hope to spend a few days in Hong Kong’s Disneyland, Ocean Park or Lantau Island, before heading off to Macau the next week,” said Wu.
“The same goes for travellers from Macau. We hope this can stimulate travel in both directions.”
In the meantime, working on domestic tourism could help travel agencies “bring back confidence to people in Hong Kong”, said Jebsen’s Agonoy.
Agonoy added they were in talks with schools to provide eco-tourism packages, as part of efforts to spread awareness of the city’s “green” tourist attractions, such as Unesco heritage sites and hiking trails.
“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, more locals have gone hiking at The Peak than before as they wanted to get some fresh air, and to feel closer to nature,” said Bella Chhoa Peck-lim, the director of leasing and management at Hang Lung Properties which owns Peak Galleria, the shopping mall near the summit of the Victoria Peak.
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Peak Galleria had worked with hotels to provide staycation packages for families in Hong Kong, although these had been put on hold as social distancing rules came into effect.
“Domestic tourism works, people in Hong Kong do want to travel with their family to explore and experience Hong Kong,” she said. “When tourists start coming back to the city, we will work with outbound tourism operators to provide packages to attract more travellers here.”
It always seems impossible until it is done.