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Hong Kong protests: Businesses dependent on tourism reel from massive income loss

Hong Kong protests: Businesses dependent on tourism reel from massive income loss

HONG KONG: Dispensaries are a common sight in Hong Kong. They stock a variety of products including dried seafood, cosmetics and even infant formula – all popular with visitors from the mainland

But when CNA visited the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping area on Friday (Aug 16), many of the dispensaries were having a slow day, a stark contrast to the lively street scenes one expected to see. 

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

“Let me show you the staff roster We usually have four off days (every month). But now some of us have been asked to take additional off days without pay,” said a manager working for a dispensary chain.

The manager in his 40s, who only wanted to be known as Mr Bui, said sales have dipped by more than 80 per cent since the city was gripped by protests.

“I don’t think we have seen the worst yet,” he said.

When interviewed by CNA, businesses that are dependent on tourism said their income has fallen by as much as 90 per cent.

READ: Singaporeans advised to defer non-essential travel to Hong Kong, says MFA

Mr Pang, the owner of an eatery in SoHo district. (Photo: Albert Wai)

The owner of an eatery in the SoHo district said that his overall income has fallen by around 50 per cent.

“This is supposed to be peak season. But due to the protests, the peak season is now gone,” said Mr Pang, 60, who also only wanted to be known by his last name.

The situation is worse during the weekends, as tourists stay away from areas where protesters are congregating nearby.

“(During weekends), we depend a lot on free-and-easy tourists from the mainland … I am now seeing up to a 90 per cent fall in my weekend takings,” said Mr Pang

According to Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) statistics, more than 75 per cent of the city’s tourists are from the mainland.

“I hope this fire (the ongoing protests) can be put out soon … But as small citizens, what can we do?” Mr Pang lamented.

READ: Hong Kong on brink of recession as trade war, political protests escalateREAD:’Too scared to buy ice cream for my son’: Hong Kong protests leave some residents looking for an exit

Protesters filled the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, which is popular with mainlanders. (Photo: AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

DOUBLE-DIGIT DECLINE IN VISITOR ARRIVALS FOR 2ND HALF OF JULY

With the continuing protests, tourist arrivals have fallen sharply and the travel sector may be in for a rough ride over the coming weeks.

Responding to CNA’s queries, a HKTB spokesperson said on Friday that preliminary figures show a double-digit decline in the number of visitor arrivals in the second half of July, leading to a fall in total arrivals for the month.

The spokesperson added that the travel sector has reported a significant drop in the number of forward bookings in August and September.

Tourism is vulnerable to a combination of factors including macro-economic environment, currency exchange rates, socio-economic situation, among the others,” the spokesperson noted.

“The HKTB will closely monitor the situation, review developments and flexibly adjust its strategies and plans as required to respond to contingencies and changes in the market environment.”

Weeks of rallies and protests in Hong Kong have seen millions of people take to the streets in the biggest challenge to China‘s rule of the semi-autonomous city since its 1997 handover from Britain.

READ: How a leaderless movement in Hong Kong went haywireREAD: Rudderless rebellion – Inside the Hong Kong protesters‘ anarchic campaign against China

Anti-extradition bill protesters attend a gathering at Chater House Garden in Hong Kong on Aug 16, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

The movement was initially sparked by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

The government later announced it would “suspend” the Bill. To extend an olive branch to the protesters, the government also offered to meet them in a closed-door setting, but the protest representatives turned down the invitation.

The movement has since evolved into a much broader campaign for democratic freedoms.

READ: Hong Kong on ‘verge of very dangerous situation’, says leader Carrie Lam as she refuses to step down

There are also increasingly violent battles with the police. 

Winning little compromise from the authorities, protesters this week took their civil disobedience campaign to the airport, a key global transport hub.

Activists argued that increased levels of police violence had forced them to up the ante, even if it meant disrupting travellers.

Almost 750 people have been arrested for the protests, with 115 being charged.

In a bid to contain the damage to the city’s economy, the government this week announced a stimulus package worth US$2.4 billion.

Hong Kong police insist they can handle the protests and there is no need for mainland China to intervene. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

READ: Airport beatings spark soul-searching over Hong Kong’s radicals

“SIT DOWN AND TALK, DON’T BE VIOLENT”

Those interviewed hope that the protests would not escalate.

“Let’s sit down and talk things over. Don’t be violent. It doesn’t solve any problem,” said Mr Pang, the eatery owner.

“The police are having a hard time. And so are the protesters,” he said, adding that the police have been professional in carrying out their duties.

Ms Chan, who operates a confectionery in Wan Chai noted that the government has actually tried to address some of the protesters’ concerns.

“If the protesters want to continue their actions, we as ordinary citizens feel helpless,” she said.

“For those in my generation, Hong Kong has all along been prosperous and stable. We like Hong Kong the way it was,” said Ms Chan, who is in her 50s.

Protesters and residents take part in a protest march at Sham Shui Po in Hong Kong, on Aug 11, 2019. (Photo: AP/Kin Cheung)

Meanwhile, Mr Choi, 70, who owns a ginseng store in Sheung Wan hopes that Beijing will step in and offer a solution.

“The Communist Party will not allow Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign (over her handling of the protests) … It is now up to Beijing to resolve the issue.”

Mr Bui, the dispensary manager added: “I hope these protests can be stopped as soon as possible.

“Let the tourists have the confidence to come and shop. I hope Hong Kong can once again become a shopping paradise.”