The Hong Kong government’s attempt to quash the city’s fourth Covid-19 wave has allegedly ruffled some hotel industry's feathers, when it announced on 11 December that the 36 exclusive hotels approved to accept quarantine guests between 22 December and 19 February.
Travellers arriving from locations outside mainland China are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, and must have proof of a hotel reservation before boarding flights. Additionally, in order to avoid broader infection, selected hotels are prohibited from taking in regular guests, and those not chosen must stop accepting quarantine bookings.
According to reports by the South China Morning Post, approximately 100 hotels applied for a place in the Designated Hotel Scheme, but the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners’ executive director Michael Li told local media that the industry had not been fully briefed on the scheme’s requirements beyond size, location, price and quarantine experience criteria.
“We primarily consider whether the design, facilities and operations of the hotels meet the government's infection control requirements,” said a spokesperson for the Food and Health Bureau (FHB), admitting that other factors were also considered.
“Designated quarantine hotels must pass the inspection conducted by the Department of Health…the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, and the Buildings Department.” The FHB declined to answer whether exclusion equated with failure to meet the scheme’s standards.
Spanning nine of the city’s 18 districts, the 12,000 approved rooms range in price from a general entry at HK$400 (US$52) to over HK$50,000 per night at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.
Some 21 of the 36 exclusively approved hotels are located in the Central, Wan Chai and Kowloon City districts. Although Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip has claimed only one property per hotel group would be considered, Magnificent Hotel Investments, Far East Consortium and Regal Group hold nearly 50% of the designated rooms. At a press briefing Nip noted sufficient rooms at affordable prices were crucial, and that 80% of the selections charged under HK$1,000 per night.
Also raising eyebrows was the omission of operators with a proven track record in quarantine stays, including Dorsett International Hospitality Group’s budget-friendly Silka and home-grown Ovolo Group.
“Ovolo hotels have been embracing returnee Hong Kongers with dignity and pride for over 10 months,” said founder and CEO, Girish Jhunjhnuwala, referring to the hotel’s quarantine concierge package, which has welcomed more than 1,500 quarantine guests over 21,000 room nights this year. This includes those flying in from high-risk destinations such as the US and the UK.
Ovolo’s Mojo Nomad in Aberdeen Harbour was approved but its Central location was not, although the nearby Landmark Mandarin Oriental was. Four Points by Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel made the cut, despite being scheduled to open in spring 2021.
The quarantine package helped Ovolo maintain 78% occupancy through December, and now with this scheme the group must—along with many other popular hotels—cancel 8,000 room nights through March, which will be “devastating to Ovolo’s business", said Jhunjhnuwala. Since the start of the pandemic, hotel occupancy in the city has plummeted to just over 50%, making quarantine stays a key revenue generator.
There’s been no word on compensation for hotels left out in the cold, but with many of the locations already fully booked, the Hong Kong government indicated that more could be added.
“So far, there are 36 hotels in the first batch of designated quarantine hotels,” the government release stated. “[We] will closely monitor the booking rate of the hotels and increase the supply of designated quarantine hotels as and when necessary.”