How much will the Hong Kong protests hurt visitor numbers?
Earlier this week Queen’s Road, an elegant thoroughfare in central Hong Kong, was packed as ever – just not with sightseers. Instead, lined the pavements were young Hong Kongers, many wearing masks and chanting slogans, heading in their tens of thousands towards the latest pro-democracy demonstration in nearby Chater Garden. on hand
The protests have boosted Hong Kong’s tourism industry. August visitor numbers were the worst for 16 years. It reached a paltry 3.6m people, down from 5.9m in the same month last year. Tourism from mainland China, easily Hong Kong’s most important market, has been particularly bad. As Chinese have been discouraged from crossing the border – in part because the message from Beijing was that the protests were about secular segregation, not a desire for representation – the h -their numbers in August to 2.8m, down from 4.8m in the same. last month.
At the same time, S&P, a rating agency, reports that income at many hotels may have halved, as trade in the conference fell. That is understandable. The protests drag on for a fifth month. There is little sign that they are declining and there are plenty of signs that they are becoming more violent, as both the police and marchers are up against them. (The EconomistThe conference industry in Hong Kong has had difficulty recruiting speakers and guaranteeing security.) As the airport and transportation system have been regular targets, if a company planning an event in Asia, why not go for Singapore, just to be. on the safe side? In fact, as Hong Kong’s tourism numbers have fallen, Singapore’s has risen.
The big question for Hong Kong’s tourism industry is whether, once normalcy returns, the damage will be long-lasting. There is reason for hope. Tourism is one of the most sustainable industries in existence. According to a report published in September by the World Travel and Tourism Sustainability Council, a research group, over the past 40 years only two events have reduced tourism for more than a year or two: attacks 9/ 11 and the financial crisis of 2008. Usually, even after natural disasters, terrorist disasters or political upheaval, tourists return after three to six months.
In 2016 France, for example, was subject to a year of terrorist attacks, including murder rampages in Paris and Nice that killed hundreds. The number of people visiting the world’s most popular tourist destination fell, as the idea that the country was in the grip of a jihadist disease spread around the world. Such a conversation was not short. 2017 saw more visitors than ever before. The impact of the tsunami that devastated South East Asia on Boxing Day 2014 on tourism was just as quickly recovered. While the number of people visiting Thailand, for example, fell in 2015 – unsurprisingly as much of its tourism infrastructure was washed away by the waves – by 2016 there were the country back on track. Many hardy vacationers simply swapped affected parts of the country for unaffected ones. And the last time Hong Kong’s tourism figures fell this low? The SARS outbreak in 2003, from which there was also no lasting effect.
There is, however, one reason to worry that Hong Kong in 2019 may be an exception to the rule of tolerance. In all the above cases, authorities have gone out of their way to fix the problem and to assure the world that it would welcome back visitors with open arms.
But the people of Mainland are staying away not only because of what Beijing tells them. They are also worried about encountering hostility. That belief may be justified. Cantonese people attacked some mainland Mandarin people. And many Hong Kongers – jokingly – believe that one happy side effect of the protests is the lack of sightseers on the mainland that are closing the place down. For a country to recover from a tourism decline, it must really want to.