Coronavirus: Hong Kong tourism industry to receive HK$377 million relief package to tide it over through border closures

Hong Kong’s beleaguered tourism industry will receive a HK$377 million (US$48 million) package of relief measures to help operators through the ongoing border closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Travel agents, tour guides, coach drivers and operators of cross-border vehicles and ferries are set to benefit from the government’s latest round of financial aid, with the first payments expected from early September.

Tourism had been Hong Kong’s hardest-hit industry since the eruption of anti-government protests in 2019 and the coronavirus crisis that followed, said commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah as he announced the funding on Thursday.

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Yau said challenges for the industry remained even though the government was opening up more avenues for business, including allowing the resumption of local tours and “cruises to nowhere”. He added officials were also exploring forming travel bubbles with other economies.

“Despite our efforts, with the [pandemic] still widely affecting the world, cross-boundary ... travel can hardly be resumed in the near term,” he said.

“Taking into account the grave challenges faced continuously by the tourism industry, the government has decided to provide a round of special further subsidies to continue to support the relevant trades and tide over practitioners during this challenging period.”

The support package involves a series of one-off payments to the sector through the anti-epidemic fund, which was rolled out by the government last year to help businesses stay afloat.

Under the plans, travel agencies with 10 or fewer staff members will each be given a flat rate of HK$50,000. Those with 11 employees or more are eligible for HK$5,000 per worker.

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Staff at travel agencies, freelance accredited tour guides and tour escorts will be offered HK$7,500, with tour coach drivers to get HK$3,350.

For operators of cross-border transport services, owners of coaches and hire cars will be handed HK$30,000 for each vehicle, compared with HK$500,000 per vessel for ferry firms.

Travel agencies have been forced to close in the absence of vistors. Photo: Winson Wong

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said he hoped the latest package would help tide travel agencies over until the end of this year.

“This round of funding can slow down the wave of shutdowns and lay-offs,” he said.

But he said the resumption of quarantine-free travel with mainland China or the establishment of travel corridors with other destinations seemed a distant prospect for Hong Kong, which has been in near lockdown for about 18 months.

Yiu called on officials to increase subsidies for domestic green tourism, adding that relaxing the Covid-19 testing requirements for “cruise to nowhere” travel could also help operators attract more customers.

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