Many Hong Kong residents as of late could not really feel like celebrating in any respect when the twenty fifth anniversary of the 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 motion, an effort that has been growing for years. Then again, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the town laborious and introduced one of many pillars of its economic 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, because of strict pandemic journey restrictions, a few of that are nonetheless in drive, the sector collapsed utterly.

In all of 2021, the official variety of customer arrivals was simply 91,000, Ehmann stated — in contrast with practically 56 million in 2019. “This reveals how devastating the implications of the zero-COVID coverage have been, and proceed to be, for tourism in Hong Kong.”

On Hong Kong’s streets, the big variety of lowered shutters, and closed shops and eating places within the buying facilities, are proof of how badly the economic system has been hit by the absence of holiday makers.

Based on official figures, tourism makes up circa 5% of the town’s gross home product. There are greater than 300 lodges, and the sector instantly employs some 260,000 individuals.

Most vacationers from mainland China

The tourism business has modified significantly over previous a long time. “Purchasing tourism is essential in Hong Kong at this time,” says Jianli Chen, proprietor of the Hamburg-based firm China Hansa Journey, which organizes journeys to his residence nation. “Chinese language vacationers from the mainland now play a a lot greater 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 luggage, branded items of every kind — that is what rich mainland Chinese language are on the lookout for in Hong Kong, Chen explains.

The truth that such buying journeys — usually solely day journeys — are doable is a direct results of the 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, virtually 300 million Chinese language have made use of them.

Hans-Wilm Schütte, a Chinese language scholar and writer of a number of journey guides on China and Hong Kong, remembers occasions when this was not doable. “Vacationers in Hong Kong was Individuals, Japanese, sometimes a couple of Europeans,” he says. “The truth that so many mainland Chinese language come at this time additionally has to do with [Hong Kong’s] handover to the Folks’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 Struggle in 1841, rule of Hong Kong was within the arms of the UK. The town subsequently developed into an necessary army base and buying and selling middle. Throughout World Struggle II, Japanese forces occupied the town, and afterward Hong Kong grew into an financial powerhouse, thanks partly to Chinese language entrepreneurs who had fled Mao’s Crimson Brigades.

However Hong Kong’s autonomy is being more and more eroded. In 2020, a controversial “safety legislation” got here into drive that gave the Chinese language authorities leeway to supress free speech and democracy protests there, and which continues to function the idea for arrests of regime critics.

In 2014, tens of 1000’s of individuals took to the streets in so-called “umbrella protests” to demand extra democracy. Additionally in 2019 and 2020, the town noticed a sequence of pro-democracy demonstrations.

Though the demonstrations had 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 form of unrest there.

China’s President Xi Jinping to attend celebrations

The town had lengthy been the gateway to China for Western vacationers; hovever, this has modified.

“Hong Kong tourism from Europe has grow to be a lot much less,” says Chen. As just lately because the Nineties, he used to common three journeys a yr to Hong Kong as a tour information.

“The basic route for spherical journeys to China started and resulted in Hong Kong,” says Chen. Nonetheless, with the progressive opening up of China, this has progressively modified.

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 lodge quarantines.

Celebrations to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of the return of the town are, nevertheless, more likely to be lavish. China’s President Xi Jinping may also be current, and is predicted to attend a number of official occasions.

This text was initially written in German.


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