Coronavirus keeps Chinese visitors away from HK during Golden Week

Coronavirus keeps Chinese visitors away from HK during Golden Week

A Hong Kong girl poses for a photo with fish-themed lanterns crafted for this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. (South China Morning Post photo)
A Hong Kong girl poses for a photo with fish-themed lanterns crafted for this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival. (South China Morning Post photo)

The shine is gone from the annual Golden Week holiday that begins on Oct 1, and Hong Kong's hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and attractions can only look back wistfully at the better times of years gone by.

The Covid-19 pandemic, with its restrictions on travel, has left tourism industry players expecting a muted long weekend for Hong Kongers as mainland Chinese visitors keep away.

Hong Kong's Oct 1-4 holiday overlaps with the Mid-Autumn Festival, while mainlanders get an eight-day National Day break that usually sees millions travelling within the country and overseas.

In 2018, about 1.5 million mainlanders flocked to Hong Kong over the holiday. That number slumped by more than 55% to about 672,000 last year, as they were put off by the city's anti-government protests.

The number of mainland visitors plummeted 92% between January and August this year to only 2.7 million, compared to more than 34.5 million over the same period a year ago.

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the pandemic rules requiring visitors from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival at Hong Kong would put off visitors from across the border.

This means Hong Kongers will be on their own to create any buzz they can over the long weekend, although Chief Executive Carrie Lam urged revellers to avoid large gatherings and remain alert against the coronavirus.

Hotels are hoping their staycation deals will draw Hong Kongers, restaurants have come up with special menus and malls are offering perks to entice shoppers.

Golden Week usually sees hotels fill up with visitors, with many hitting 100% occupancy, but that will not be the case this year.

Percy Kwan, marketing director of online travel booking site Klook, said more than 60 hotels on the platform had rolled out staycation deals in a bid to attract couples and small families.

Among those offering "buy-one-get-one-free" room promotions were The Auberge in Discovery Bay, The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Causeway Bay and the Regal Airport Hotel.

Kwan was optimistic about the response. About 85% of the roughly 500 people polled by Klook early this month said they wanted to go on another local holiday over the coming six months.

That was a change from a similar survey in February, when 60% of respondents said they were not interested in staycations.

Shane Pateman, managing director of the Cordis Hong Kong hotel in Mong Kok, said the demand for staycations had risen steadily.

"The long weekend has really prompted people to find a way to take a break," he said.

Freddy Yip Hing-ning, president of the Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners Association, lamented that instead of a peak season where they would traditionally be taking visitors around, travel agents would have nothing to do.

He hoped the government would ease the restriction on group activities and allow local tour groups of at least 25 people. That would allow travel agents to run half-day or one-day tours for Hong Kongers.

"It's impossible to run a tour with only three or four people," he said. "Those on a coach tour are more happy with the atmosphere, as they can meet people and get their friends to go with them."

Hong Kong's theme parks and attractions are hoping for a boost over the four-day weekend, as local families take their children out.

Ocean Park has introduced a holiday deal from Oct 1, offering a package that includes an admission ticket, HK$80 yoga session and HK$100 electronic coupon at HK$380 for an adult.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort has a room-and-breakfast staycation deal starting from HK$1,378, and guests can learn how to make Disney character dim sum or poolside cocktails.

The Ngong Ping 360 cable car attraction, which takes visitors to a giant Buddha statue near a hilltop monastery on Lantau Island, reopened on September 11 after being closed twice during the pandemic.

Andy Lau Wai-ming, the attraction's managing director, said Hong Kong residents would get a 20% discount on round-trip tickets.

He hoped the weather would hold up and visitors would come over the long weekend.

Charles Wong Chun-fai, 35, who visited Ngong Ping 360 for the third time in his life on Thursday, said: "It's a lot less crowded because of the pandemic. The experience was more peaceful."

Wong, who works in finance, said he was looking forward to taking the cable car ride again with friends over the long weekend. He preferred enjoying the outdoors to a staycation, he said.

Hong Kong's shopping centres and restaurants, meanwhile, are getting creative as they bid to capture a holiday spending boost.

Developer Sun Hung Kai Properties, the city's largest manager of shopping malls, has lined up HK$10 million worth of promotions for October to attract shoppers.

It has also created more alfresco dining at its malls to cater to those who prefer to stay outdoors because of the pandemic.

To entice diners, the developer created a mobile phone application to bundle takeaway services for about 100 food and beverage outlets across 10 of its malls by the end of September, with a plan to double the number of outlets by the end of this year.

But restaurant operators remain downbeat about the long weekend, as ongoing pandemic restrictions mean they can fill only half their outlets' capacity.

Simon Wong Kit-lung, who runs the LH Group of restaurants, which encompasses 37 eateries, said as long as the capacity restriction remained, the F&B; industry would struggle.

"Restaurant operators are at best having half their seats filled, but they have to pay full rents," said Wong, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Japanese Food and Cuisine Association. "This means the industry continues to operate at a loss."

The Mid-Autumn Festival is usually a time when families eat out together, but Wong said there was no way to have big family gatherings this year, as restaurants could not seat more than four people to a table.

"I suspect families will prefer dining at home and ordering takeaway instead," he said.

Grandmother May Lam, 66, said she would stay home and cook a feast for her family of six in Yuen Long over the coming weekend, instead of dining out as they had done in previous years.

"It is meaningless if we have dinner in a restaurant but sit separately at two tables," she said.

The family, including her grandchildren, aged six and nine, were also looking forward to other activities over the long weekend.

"We want to avoid crowds, so we will not go to shopping malls, but plan to go to the countryside," she said.

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