Hong Kong tourist arrivals drop 14 per cent year on year in 2019 amid anti-government protests

Denise Tsang

The number of visitors to Hong Kong dropped by 14 per cent last year amid the ongoing protests roiling the city, tourism authorities revealed on Wednesday, as the government announced that the signature Lunar New Year fireworks show would be cancelled.

In 2019, arrival figures dropped to 55.9 million from 65.15 million the year before, dragged down by a 14.2 per cent decline in mainland Chinese, who accounted for the bulk of visitors to the city, the Tourism Board said.

Overnight visitors, who spend more, tumbled 18.8 per cent to 23.76 million.

The news came as Hong Kong continues to be gripped by civil unrest, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. The campaign has since morphed into a wider movement against the government and police, often ending in violent clashes between demonstrators and officers.

The months-long anti-government protests have affected Hong Kong’s tourism sector badly. Photo: AFP

“Hong Kong’s tourism industry has faced exceptional challenges over the past year, but I have every confidence in our resilience and appeal as a world-class travel destination,” board chairman Pang Yiu-kai said. “We are working tirelessly on a major global promotion that will rebuild the city’s image as a destination and help our tourism industry recover.”

He referred to the online platform called “Hong Kong is On”, which was launched early last month and provides more than 500 offers on flights, hotels, dining, retail and attractions.

Despite its efforts to promote the city, the government chose to axe the signature fireworks at Victoria Harbour, which were scheduled for the second day of Lunar New Year celebrations on January 26, blaming the “current situation”.

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing earlier said the government had safety concerns, as the protests engulfing the city showed little sign of abating.

Referring to the widespread cancellations of flagship events, Yiu said: “It is not good for Hong Kong’s reputation.

Tourist arrivals take sharpest plunge in November since protests began

“When it comes to safety issues, the decisions are understandable.”

The 20-minute-long fireworks have been at the heart of the Lunar New Year festival for years.

The last time they were cancelled was in 2018 in the wake of a bus accident in Tai Po that claimed 19 lives and injured at least 60.

Yiu said it was disappointing the fireworks had joined a growing list of axed events.

Yiu Si-wing has confirmed the usual fireworks for Lunar New Year will not happen in 2020. Photo: SCMP

The months-long protests prompted the city’s tourist arrivals to contract 39.1 per cent in the second half of the last year, offsetting the 13.9 per cent growth in the first half. More than 40 jurisdictions have issued travel warnings or advisories against heading to Hong Kong.

Home affairs minister Lau Kong-wah attributed the government’s decision to drop the Lunar New Year fireworks to “the current situation”.

“After careful assessment, we decided to cancel the fireworks based on public safety concerns,” the minister said on Wednesday.

Lunar New Year parade replaced by carnival over safety fears for protest-hit route

He added the light show at Victoria Harbour and performances in West Kowloon Cultural District would not be affected.

Convenor of the pro-democracy camp Tanya Chan Suk-chong said she could not understand the logic behind the cancellation, saying it had dealt another blow to Hong Kong’s reputation.

Referring to the strength of police firepower and proposals for more weaponry, she said: “I don’t understand why police have no confidence in ensuring public safety.”

Chan said the administration lacked the will to properly govern the city, and urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to respond to the anti-government protesters’ five key demands.

Traditional Hong Kong New Year’s Eve fireworks cancelled over protest fears

Pro-establishment lawmaker Lau Kwok-fun said the cancellation of the fireworks was disappointing but understandable.

“Over the past seven months, some large-scale events have been cancelled amid protests,” Lau Kwok-fun said.

“We hope the protests come to a complete stop. The government should also have more dialogue with the public.”

Aside from the fireworks blow, it was previously announced the Lunar New Year celebration would be watered down, with a three-day carnival replacing the parade through southern Kowloon.

The traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks, organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, were also cancelled due to safety concerns.

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