Many Hong Kong residents lately could not really feel like celebrating in any respect when the twenty fifth anniversary of town’s return to Chinese language rule is marked. That is due on the one hand to the efforts of the Chinese language authorities to increase its affect in Hong Kong and to suppress the democracy movement, an effort that has been growing for years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit town onerous and introduced one of many pillars of its financial system, tourism, to a digital standstill.
Zero-COVID coverage has devastating penalties
“Till 2019, Hong Kong was one of many world’s most-visited cities,” says Wolfgang Ehmann of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, attributable to strict pandemic journey restrictions, a few of that are nonetheless in power, the sector collapsed utterly.
In all of 2021, the official variety of customer arrivals was simply 91,000, Ehmann stated — in contrast with almost 56 million in 2019. “This exhibits how devastating the implications of the zero-COVID coverage have been, and proceed to be, for tourism in Hong Kong.”
In Hong Kong, strict COVID-19 guidelines proceed to use, resembling carrying face masks in public areas
On Hong Kong’s streets, the big variety of lowered shutters, and closed shops and eating places within the purchasing facilities, are proof of how badly the financial system has been hit by the absence of tourists.
In accordance with official figures, tourism makes up circa 5% of town’s gross home product. There are greater than 300 motels, and the sector straight employs some 260,000 folks.
Most vacationers from mainland China
The tourism business has modified significantly over previous a long time. “Purchasing tourism is essential in Hong Kong in the present day,” says Jianli Chen, proprietor of the Hamburg-based firm China Hansa Journey, which organizes journeys to his house nation. “Chinese language vacationers from the mainland now play a a lot larger function than worldwide tourism.”
Official figures bear this out. In 2017, for instance, 76% of all guests got here from mainland China. Costly watches, fancy baggage, branded items of all types — that is what rich mainland Chinese language are on the lookout for in Hong Kong, Chen explains.
The truth that such purchasing journeys — typically solely day journeys — are potential is a direct results of town’s rule being returned to China. Beginning in 2003, the Chinese language state started issuing visas that permit particular person journeys to Hong Kong. Since then, nearly 300 million Chinese language have made use of them.
Hans-Wilm Schütte, a Chinese language scholar and creator of a number of journey guides on China and Hong Kong, remembers instances when this was not potential. “Vacationers in Hong Kong was once People, Japanese, sometimes a number of Europeans,” he says. “The truth that so many mainland Chinese language come in the present day additionally has to do with [Hong Kong’s] handover to the Individuals’s Republic of China.”
Critics warn of autonomy undermined
That handover formally concluded on July 1, 1997, after a few years of wrangling. After the so-called Opium Conflict in 1841, rule of Hong Kong was within the arms of the UK. Town subsequently developed into an vital navy base and buying and selling middle. Throughout World Conflict II, Japanese forces occupied town, and afterward Hong Kong grew into an financial powerhouse, thanks partially to Chinese language entrepreneurs who had fled Mao’s Purple Brigades.
However Hong Kong’s autonomy is being more and more eroded. In 2020, a controversial “safety regulation” got here into power that gave the Chinese language authorities leeway to supress free speech and democracy protests there, and which continues to serve because the basis for arrests of regime critics.
In 2014, tens of hundreds of individuals took to the streets in so-called “umbrella protests” to demand extra democracy. Additionally in 2019 and 2020, town noticed a sequence of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Though the demonstrations have been largely peaceable, Chen believes this has impacted tourism — he is satisfied that many tour operators merely take Hong Kong off their itineraries when there may be any type of unrest there.
China’s President Xi Jinping to attend celebrations
Town had lengthy been the gateway to China for Western vacationers; hovever, this has modified.
“Hong Kong tourism from Europe has turn out to be a lot much less,” says Chen. As not too long ago because the Nineties, he used to common three journeys a 12 months to Hong Kong as a tour information.
“The basic route for spherical journeys to China started and led to Hong Kong,” says Chen. Nonetheless, with the progressive opening up of China, this has progressively modified.
Dozens of occasions are deliberate to mark twenty fifth anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese language rule
In the meantime, restoration of the tourism business continues to be not in sight. Hong Kong vacationers proceed to be subjected to strict COVID-19 restrictions that embody a number of assessments and lengthy resort quarantines.
Celebrations to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of the return of town are, nevertheless, prone to be lavish. China’s President Xi Jinping will even be current, and is anticipated to attend a number of official occasions.
This text was initially written in German.