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Hong Kong Struggling to Attract Tourists

With the title of “Global City,” Hong Kong struggles to attract tourists.

Compared to the 6.8 million visitors that entered Chinese territory in 2019, only 500,000 people visited in January.

– Hong Kong, China David Bruce had had enough when COVID cases in Hong Kong spiked at the beginning of last year, the government closed schools, and there were rumors of mass testing of the city’s people. We needed to get out of town.

Hong Kong was dealing with the “fifth wave” of the pandemic and sending everyone who tested positive to a quarantine facility for up to 21 days.

“It was the turning point,” said Bruce, a 65-year-old businessman from Scotland who had spent 35 years residing in Hong Kong.

He feared that the stringent regulations of the city might prevent his 18-year-old son from leaving to undertake a summer study program in the United States.

He explained, “We had to get him on a plane and get him out of Hong Kong.

After a few weeks, Bruce moved in with his son and eventually spent over three months away from Hong Kong.

The government’s severe limitations had a negative impact on both expats and natives who were able to transfer abroad, and thousands of Hong Kong citizens, including Bruce, departed the semi-autonomous Chinese colony during the height of the pandemic – some temporarily, some permanently.

When tens of thousands of citizens left the city permanently in 2017, the population of the city fell for the third year in a row, falling 0.9 percent to 7.3 million. The implementation of a broad national security statute during 2019 pro-democracy riots that frequently descended into violence, together with discontent with pandemic measures, drove many inhabitants to leave. Officials in Hong Kong, which for decades has been regarded as one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan urban centers, have openly expressed alarm about the brain drain from the city. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, Hong Kong often forbade foreign visitors from entering.

Following nearly three years of being mostly cut off from the outside world, the metropolis that has long been promoted as “Asia’s Global City” is now putting in an all-out push to entice travelers and businesspeople back. The government announced a giveaway of 500,000 airline tickets in February in an effort to attract tourists. Early this month, authorities dropped the final pandemic ban on wearing face masks, which had been a deterrent for many would-be tourists even though airlines started increasing flying capacity to the city in late 2017.

Will they arrive, is the current query.

Pent-up demand may result in a surge in tourists to Hong Kong, which continues to be a popular travel destination. Busloads of visitors from the Chinese mainland converged on the cultural areas and harbourfront parks of Hong Kong on a recent bright Saturday afternoon. Arrivals are still a small portion of pre-pandemic levels. The city welcomed approximately 6.8 million visitors in January 2019, despite tourism reaching a nearly three-year high of over 500,000, according to the most recent data.

The largest trade events in the city have historically been held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, but lately it has been almost completely empty.

Following the city’s reopening, the convention center experienced its first full house since the pandemic began earlier this month for a pair of jewelry and gem displays. It will have a full schedule in April when it holds nine events, including exhibits that highlight innovation, electronics, and fashion. Although some businesses anticipate a speedy turnaround for the city, others believe it may take longer.

Flights on Cathay Pacific Airways, the city’s leading airline, dwindled to only a few per week at the height of the pandemic. It only carried 58 passengers on one day in March of last year, which was a low point for an airline with a once-vibrant global network that carried tens of thousands of passengers daily.

In terms of passenger flight capacity, Cathay is now running at 50% of pre-pandemic levels, and by the end of this year, it expects that percentage to rise to 70%. It anticipates waiting until the end of 2024 to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The airline stated last month that training pilots and cabin workers, many of whom have departed the carrier over the past three years, is a struggle. It will take time to get jets that have been idle for a while back into service.

United Airlines started its first passenger route from the city to San Francisco since the start of the pandemic this month, and British Airways is increasing the number of weekly flights between Hong Kong and London from seven to 14, up from two.

The city’s ability to bounce back will be put to the test again by three significant events that begin at the end of the month: Art Basel Hong Kong, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens competition. Each of these events typically draws thousands of tourists from abroad but has had to postpone events over the past three years.

The director of Art Basel Hong Kong, Angelle Siyang-Le, told Al Jazeera that the local community of visual artists in Hong Kong is very enthusiastic about the upcoming exhibition. An all-time high of 88,000 people attended Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019.

She continued by saying that the fair has been collaborating closely with the art community to reintroduce a worldwide audience to Hong Kong. Filmmakers and executives from the film business are anticipated to attend the film festival, one of the oldest in Asia, as well as its associated programs from all across Asia and beyond. In 2020, as COVID spread internationally, it ended its program. The festival still had problems even though it was held the next two years, mostly for local audiences.

Things won’t return to normal immediately, according to Albert Lee, executive director of HKIFF. There is definitely a demand for films, but it will take time, according to Lee, speaking to Al Jazeera.

The Rugby Sevens, which usually occurs in the spring, staged its first competition since the pandemic started in November of last year, while social-distancing and other regulations were still in place. The event’s organizers, who are as famous for their never-ending parties as they are for the sport itself, have vowed to “rock the city” for the first time in four years.

Businessman Bruce was lured back to Hong Kong by the city’s renowned service industry efficiency.

Travel-related problems, such as airline delays and lost luggage, started to wear on me after spending a few months in the US, the UK, and other countries last year.

He said, “Everything was falling apart.

Bruce wasn’t deterred from going back even by the thought of a seven-day quarantine upon arrival.

He recalls telling himself, “I’m going back to Hong Kong, where everything works.”

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