Hong Kong's tourism industry has recorded a year-on-year plunge of 99.6 per cent in July arrivals, as the city battens down amid the third wave of coronavirus infections, with stricter rules on inbound travellers and social-distancing measures in place.
Provisional figures released by the Tourism Board on Friday showed 20,568 people visited last month, compared with 14,606 in June, a monthly uptick of about 40.8 per cent. The latest statistic represented a daily average of about 660 visitors.
Over the first seven months of the year, arrivals were down 91.2 per cent at 3.54 million from the same period in 2019, the board said. The devastating monthly slump of at least 95 per cent started in February.
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"The situation is quite helpless with Hong Kong facing a third wave of coronavirus infections," tourism industry lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said. "There's close to zero revenue for most inbound, outbound and even local tourism operators."
Yiu also warned that the travel industry was in dire need of extra support, saying a wave of tour group closures could take place at the end of the year, as the wage subsidies under the government's current Employment Support Scheme would only last until November.
The government has also provided a one-off subsidy ranging from HK$20,000 to 200,000 for travel companies, but Yiu said this was not enough to sustain businesses with no income for more than half of the year.
Stricter rules on travellers and tightened social-distancing measures have hammered the travel industry, with authorities scrambling to stem local transmission of Covid-19 among various clusters in recent weeks such as at elderly care homes and wet markets.
By Thursday, the city had recorded 4,312 confirmed coronavirus cases with 66 related deaths. About 70 per cent of confirmed Covid-19 cases emerged in this wave, the city's most serious.
In July, the authorities tightened regulations on air travel to Hong Kong, requiring passengers from seven "high-risk" countries, including India and the United States, to produce certificates showing they have tested negative for Covid-19 before arrival. The new rules also require pilots, cabin crew and seafarers to take a coronavirus test with proof of a negative result before entering Hong Kong.
All but three border checkpoints remain closed. Mainland visitors accounted for 27.8 per cent of total arrivals in July, or 5,709 people, and the rest were from long-haul and short-haul trips. The number was down 99.9 per cent from the same period last year.
Meanwhile, air passengers will be allowed to transit via Hong Kong International Airport from mainland China from Saturday until October 15, as part of an effort to help students return to their studies abroad.
However, the transfer service does not factor into official visitor figures and the development would have limited business benefit for flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways.
The government will also announce gross domestic product data for the second quarter and the latest forecast for the annual GDP figure on Friday afternoon.
According to official advance estimates unveiled last month, the city's economy contracted by 9 per cent in the second quarter, falling just short of the record 9.1 year-on-year decline set earlier in the first three months of 2020.
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