a view of a city: Shenzhen is the best place to start for reopening Hong Kong’s leisure travel links, the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board says. Photo: Xinhua

Shenzhen is the best place to start for reopening Hong Kong’s leisure travel links, the executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board says. Photo: Xinhua

Hong Kong’s return to leisure travel should start with neighbouring parts of mainland China once a retreat of Covid-19 allows borders to reopen, according to a top tourism official in the city.

Tourism Board executive director Dane Cheng Ting-yat said its aim was for travel in both directions to resume first with the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, before restoring links with Guangzhou and further expanding into the Greater Bay Area, an economic zone comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province.

To encourage spending and travelling, the board is also putting together offers, including Cathay Pacific Airways’ giveaway of 500,000 flight tickets, through a planned online platform called Open House Hong Kong. A relaunched Hello Hong Kong programme would further offer 10,000 discounted local tours once the coronavirus restrictions were relaxed, he said.

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“We will be ready to roll out these offers when social-distancing rules have eased,” he said and referred to the Hello Hong Kong offers. “We need to be very vigilant over containing the coronavirus and can’t rush into reopening the border.”

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Hong Kong Tourism Board executive director Dane Cheng. Photo: May Tse

© Provided by South China Morning Post
Hong Kong Tourism Board executive director Dane Cheng. Photo: May Tse

For months, the Hong Kong government has been in talks with mainland authorities over forming a travel bubble to bring back non-essential border crossings. It would involve mutually recognised health code systems to show travellers’ health status, contacts with Covid-19 patients and travel history. But discussions stalled when the third wave of the coronavirus broke out in July.

Under current rules, inbound visitors from the mainland, Macau and Taiwan must quarantine for 14 days at designated places such as homes or other accommodation, although exemptions apply to essential workers such as truck drivers. Non-Hong Kong residents entering by plane from overseas are denied entry in most cases.

Amid instability despite the generally low numbers of new infections, the Hong Kong government extended the city’s existing social-distancing arrangements until October 1.

Travel bubbles may mean Hong Kong flights without transit passengers: minister

This includes confining restaurant dining to four people per table, or two for those drinking in bars, with establishments having to close by midnight.

Public gatherings are limited to a maximum of four, while entertainment and sports facilities must operate with conditions attached.

Freddy Yip Hing-ning, president of the Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners Association, urged the government to throw the ailing industry a lifeline by easing social-distancing measures and allowing 30 people to a tour group.

What conditions should Hong Kong travel bubbles carry?

“We are dying. The government should restart local tour activities and let people stretch their legs outdoors,” he said.

He called on the administration to boost travel by reaching agreements as soon as possible with other countries and jurisdictions over the creation of travel bubbles, while also suggesting performing 15-minute coronavirus tests for visitors when they arrived at border checkpoints.

The association, together with groups such as coach driver unions, on Wednesday lobbied Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee over their demands, saying the city’s 1,700 operators of tours, as well as airlines and hoteliers, were on the verge of collapse.

Hong Kong tourism has been battered by the public health crisis. The fewer than 4,500 people visiting the city in August represented a 99.9 per cent drop on the same month last year.

In the first eight months of 2020, the city’s tourist arrivals plunged 91.9 per cent to 3.54 million. Visitors from across the border tumbled 99.9 per cent to 2,323 in August, and 92.2 per cent to 2.68 million in the eight-month period from a year earlier.

So far the government has approached 11 overseas countries to form travel bubbles. They include Thailand, Japan and Singapore, as well as others with similar success in containing the coronavirus.

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