Thousands of hotel bookings for Hong Kong arrivals needing to undergo mandatory Covid-19 quarantine would have to be cancelled or rearranged after the government left several popular properties off its list of designated facilities, industry insiders say.
About 100 hotels had applied to act as designated service providers, with the government on Friday unveiling a deal to use 36 as quarantine-only facilities from December 22 until February 19 in a bid to stem the worsening fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.
To avoid potential cross-infections, hotels on the list will not be allowed to take in regular guests, while those not on the list will have to stop accepting bookings for quarantine.
The government’s list of approved hotels represents a total of 12,132 regular rooms and suites available for quarantine, including at five-star properties such as the Kerry Hotel in Hung Hom, which previously did not allow guests for quarantine, and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Central, which had only allowed select quarantine guests from lower-risk countries.
The 1,001-room Four Points by Sheraton in Tung Chung, which was supposed to have its grand opening early next year, is also on the list. In an emailed reply to the Post, the hotel said its premises had passed an infection control inspection by the Department of Health, and its staff would comply with relevant hygiene guidelines.
“We look forward to reopening this property to guests and travellers in the future,” it said. “In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the authorities.”
Meanwhile, some hospitality groups with experience handling quarantine guests were not selected.
Ovolo Group – which has handled more than 1,500 quarantining travellers from the United States, Britain, India and Singapore so far this year – told the Post it was “disappointed” most of its properties did not make the official list.
The group said it had more than 8,000 room nights booked for quarantine stays between December and March 2021 that had to be cancelled because of the government’s new arrangement.
Girish Jhunjhnuwala, Ovolo Group’s founder and chief executive, told the Post the cancellations would result in a “substantial loss in revenue” for the hospitality group, which had previously been successful in capturing the demand for quarantine accommodation.
“We’ll have to look at some form of new business, because it’s been difficult for us. We’re stunned by this … decision by the government, because we had so many bookings [for] quarantine guests,” Jhunjhnuwala said.
With more than 330 rooms across four hotels in Hong Kong, Ovolo Group’s occupancy rate was 78 per cent in November, far above the industry average of about 50 per cent during the pandemic.
Offering quarantine guests perks such as in-room fitness gear, laundry discounts, and a special concierge service to help with errands, Ovolo’s package was dubbed “The Queen of Quarantine” by the lifestyle media group Tatler.
Matthew McKenzie, an Australian who has lived between Hong Kong and Shanghai over the past seven years, was among those scrambling to find alternative accommodation for his family.
His wife and three-year-old son were expected to return to Hong Kong from Britain in late January, and had pre-booked their stay at Ovolo after reading positive online reviews.
“I’m still in shock over the cancellation, to be brutally honest,” he said. “I still can’t believe that the booking that I made two months ago won’t be accepted.”
McKenzie had tried to rebook his family’s quarantine stay at the Mojo Nomad in Aberdeen, the only Ovolo-owned property on the designated government list, but the 79-room facility had already been fully booked.
He was concerned he would not be able to find accommodation that suited the needs of their toddler.
But Ovolo was not the only group to get snubbed. All three Silka hotel properties under the Dorsett International Hospitality Group also failed to make the designated list.
Silka’s locations in Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung and Yau Ma Tei, with a total of 917 rooms between them, had been offering budget quarantine accommodation since March, with rates as low as HK$5,180 (US$668) for the 14-day period. The Post has reached out to Dorsett for comment.
Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, told a radio show the industry did not know what the government’s selection criteria had been, but understood it had considered factors such as, “whether the hotel has experience being used for quarantine in the past, and the air ventilation system of the property”.
So far, he said, the budget options on the list – which account for about 80 per cent of the total number of rooms – were seeing more bookings.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who is responsible for coordinating the designated hotels arrangement, told a radio show on Monday that the 36 chosen hotels had until the end of the day to confirm whether they could start accommodating quarantine-only guests by Friday.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing estimated about 60 per cent of bookings at the designated quarantine hotels would go to operators in the HK$500 to HK$1,000 price range.
“The higher-end ones would only accommodate less than 10 per cent of those who have plans to return to Hong Kong over the Christmas break,” Yiu said.
Yiu brushed off concerns that hotels that did not previously handle quarantine guests would be unprepared to serve as designated facilities, noting bigger chains “could easily move staff around from other properties to help out”.
“The health authorities are also in regular communication with the hotels to make sure standards are in place,” he added.