Thai tour group in Hong Kong enjoys only 1 day at local restaurants

Thai tour group in Hong Kong enjoys only 1 day at local restaurants

Operators adjust to relaxed rules

Members of a Thai group tour show their blue health codes during their trip to Hong Kong. (South China Morning Post photo)
Members of a Thai group tour show their blue health codes during their trip to Hong Kong. (South China Morning Post photo)

Members of a tour group from Thailand were unable to dine out at restaurants in Hong Kong until the final day of their four-day trip on Tuesday, as travel operators struggled to adjust to recent changes to the city's coronavirus restrictions.

Authorities last Friday announced that under the "0+3" entry scheme tour group members could eat at designated restaurants during their mandatory three-day medical surveillance period, provided travel and catering operators fulfilled the relevant criteria.

Tour guide May Kan, who flew in from Thailand with the group, said she was ecstatic when the travellers' amber codes finally turned blue at 9am on Tuesday and had raced off to tell them.

"[The tourists] kept asking me when will their amber code turn blue," she said.

The Travel Industry Council had earlier said applications from tour agencies under the revised rules would take several days to approve and must include a list of designated restaurants willing to host group members.

But Carry On Travel Services, which organised the trip, said the 50 tourists resorted to eating packed lunches and dinners in their hotel rooms for the first three days of the trip, general manager Cathy Yuen said.

But several tourists from the group told the South China Morning Post they had enjoyed some Chinese cuisine at a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui on the morning of their last day in Hong Kong, including congee, fried noodles and dim sum.

"The tourists are very happy, they waited so long for their amber code to turn blue," Yuen said, referring to the city's health codes system.

Under the city's "0+3" current entry scheme, inbound travellers are issued an amber health code during the medical surveillance period and are prohibited from entering select premises across the city, including bars and restaurants. Upon completion of the process, arrivals are issued a blue code and are no longer subject to the restrictions.

A group member who gave her name as Shin said the tour was her third time visiting Hong Kong and described the experience as "very good".

But the 46-year-old added that she was disappointed she could not dine at local restaurants sooner, despite not minding eating takeaway meals in her hotel room.

"[It's] so sad because I wanted to eat in restaurants and try wanton noodles. I wanted to eat inside," she said.

The group was able to benefit from separate rule changes that launched last Thursday, allowing them to visit venues offering mask-on activities during the surveillance period, such as travelling to Ngong Ping 360 and the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.

The organiser said the group had faced several challenges during their time in Hong Kong, including taking around two hours to help the tourists install the "Leave Home Safe" risk-exposure app upon arriving in the city and teaching them how to upload their rapid-antigen test results on the government's website.

Yuen said she hoped future tour groups would not be required to complete so many rapid antigen tests, describing the process as a "waste of time" and an inconvenience.

She also said other restrictions which prevented group members from buying food without a licensed tour guide being present had also created problems.

"The biggest issue is that if the tourists are not accompanied by the tour guide, they can't buy food on their own, so they are a little unhappy about that," Yuen said.

On Monday, two travel representatives separately said they expected the number of tour groups would pick up in December, with one estimating up to 40 would come to Hong Kong, while the other placed the figure at 200.

But Yuen on Tuesday noted her tour agency had yet to receive any bookings for next month, while other operators said they were struggling to attract customers.

Amy Overy, the owner of private tour organiser Hong Kong Greeters, said two of her bookings for November were cancelled and five prospective clients had lost interest after learning about the city's coronavirus curbs.

"Holidays are supposed to be a time when you don't want to have to think … and navigating all this stuff is a minefield. I don't blame them," she said.

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