Hong Kong tourism representatives are nervous but hoping for a slight improvement in business over the Lunar New Year, as the number of mainland Chinese tours in the city has plunged by 90 per cent to only around 20 a day amid anti-government protests.
The industry has been hard hit by the protests that have rocked the city since early June, with hotel bookings for the Lunar New Year one month away halved from the same period last year, while smaller guest house operators said they had yet to receive any reservations.
Yiu Siu-wing, the lawmaker representing the tourism sector, said it was still hard to say whether business for the industry would improve during the Lunar New Year holiday, which would begin on January 25.
“With demonstrations taking place in shopping malls [during Christmas], many hotels said they would need to wait and see. Customers will not book hotel rooms that early,” Yiu said on Saturday.
Over the Christmas holiday, radical protesters resorted to vandalism in their “shopping” rallies at malls across the city, prompting police to use tear gas and pepper spray to disperse them.
Yiu told a radio programme that occupancy rates in hotels in recent months were not satisfactory.
He said some hotels that were located in protest-prone areas or that did not cut room rates drastically had occupancy rates of less than 50 per cent.
Yiu added that overall hotel room rates had been cut by 50 per cent or more.
Official figures showed that the number of visitors to Hong Kong began to register a year-on-year drop as early as July. In October, there were around 3.31 million visitors, 43.7 per cent less than the same period last year. The Tourism Board announced earlier this month year-on-year tourist figures had dropped 56 per cent in November.
Jason Wong Chun-tat, chairman of the Travel Industry Council, told the same programme daily number of tours coming from the mainland had dropped from up to 200 in the past to only around 10 to 20.
Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, told the Post only around 15 per cent of hotel rooms had so far been pre-booked for the Lunar New Year holiday.
While there was still around a month to go until the holiday and more bookings were expected, Li said that in the past, around 20 to 30 per cent of hotel rooms would be pre-booked by this time.
“We dare not be optimistic at all,” Li said. “Many major activities have been cancelled, what else is there to attract visitors?”
While the traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks have been cancelled this year, the Lunar New Year parade – which was launched in 1996 – will also be replaced by a carnival for the first time.
Li said a more accurate assessment of the hotel occupancy situation could be made around a week ahead of the holiday.
He expected occupancy at three- and four-star hotels to be around 70 to 80 per cent during the Lunar New Year, down from 80 to 90 per cent over the same period in the past. In five-star hotels, he expected occupancy to be around 50 to 60 per cent at the most.
Guest houses, which offer more modest accommodation, hope to see an improvement in business, though not much is expected.
David Leung Tai-wai, founder-chairman of the Hong Kong Guest Houses Association, which represented more than 1,000 of some 3,000 guest houses in the city, said the average occupancy rate over Christmas was merely above 10 per cent.
“We hope the situation will be slightly better over the Lunar New Year,” Leung said. “Hopefully the occupancy rate will improve to around 20 per cent.”
No guest house bookings had yet been made for the holiday, he said. But he also said a more precise assessment of the situation could be made only around one to two weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year.
He said a slight improvement in tourist arrivals was expected as the protests appeared to have become less intense lately.
“What has been damaged in six months … will need at least a year to recover,” Leung said.
He expected around 300 guest houses would close down after the Lunar New Year because of the dire situation created by the drop in tourist arrivals.
The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.