- As the Hong Kong tourism industry reels from the plunge in arrivals, regional neighbours are also hurting, underlining the need for greater economic diversification
Chinese travel overseas in such numbers and are such high spenders that some governments and communities have come to count on them as critical for growth. Months of civil strife that scared off tourists taught Hong Kong a lesson about overreliance on mainland visitors. That is doubly so now that border restrictions have been imposed to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19. But Thailand, Japan, Australia and other nations that were expecting increases in arrivals this year are now reassessing circumstances and have come to realise they need to look to greater economic diversification.
Hong Kong's top attractions, airlines, hotels, luxury stores and restaurants have not experienced so bleak a financial period for years, in some cases since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2002-03. Thousands of companies and workers face uncertainty. But concern about the heavy drop-off in tourist numbers and how long the visitors will stay away goes far beyond the borders of China. In order of popularity in 2018, the top foreign destinations for mainlanders were Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Italy, the United States and Malaysia. Not surprisingly, these are also the places beyond the mainland where most Covid-19 cases have been detected.
Coronavirus effect on Asian tourism will carry into 2021, experts say
The outbreak has prompted some countries to bar entry to Chinese and foreign nationals who have been on the mainland with visa refusals and quarantine. They include the US, Australia and Singapore. Among those to shut out Chinese from Hubei province, the epicentre of the crisis, are Japan, South Korea and Malaysia. Others have put in place temperature checks at borders. But suspensions and cutbacks in flights to and from China mean that fewer Chinese are able to travel and, with Asia the most affected part of the world, travellers from all over are now shunning the region.
Thailand, which derives about 12 per cent of its revenue from foreign visitors, is especially hard hit. Japan had anticipated increasing tourist numbers from 31 million to 40 million this year, but now faces declines with the Tokyo Olympic Games under threat. Tourism officials are only too aware of how sensitive their industry is to the foibles of nature, politics and global trends.
Nevertheless, with Covid-19, there is still a high degree of uncertainty. Sars was quickly contained and visitor numbers bounced back within weeks. The scale of the Covid-19 crisis, severity of travel restrictions, far bigger number of mainland tourists involved and greater reliance on them by communities mean the reversal this time could last longer and be more economically devastating. Horizons should perhaps be broadened.
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