After nearly a year of effectively zero leisure visitors, the Hong Kong government signalled it was preparing to selectively reopen the border and implement travel bubbles with selected countries.
At its recent 29 March media briefing, a series of relaxed quarantine and venue capacity measures for the lead up to the Easter long weekend were also announced. Capacity restrictions for cinemas and, perhaps with an eye to tourists, the city’s two theme
parks (Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland) would rise to 75% as of 1 April.
Easing travel restrictions are just a first step, however, as 14-day quarantines do little to encourage tourism. Nonetheless, inbound travel players are getting ready to re-welcome guests.
James Ellis, FCM Travel director of sales for Asia, notes that where domestic travel has already resumed, volumes have bounced back — and exceeded — pre-Covid levels, particularly in China, where new client activity indicates rising confidence.
FCM saw flight searches surge when the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble was announced last year, and so a “quarantine-free travel bubble will indeed boost [industry] confidence further, but it should be implemented with agreed consistent standards and transparent guidelines for travellers”.
Meanwhile, FCM has also put its energy into simplifying the travel process, focusing first on the Hong Kong-Singapore travel corridor, which is back on the discussion table again between the two governments.
In the event of a new bubble, FCM’s partnership with Fullerton Health to offer travellers discounted Covid tests will underpins its services. “In the FCM-Fullerton Health partnership, we’ve ensured that FCM is a one-stop shop for a traveller’s entire journey by helping them to book for these health tests in addition
to the rest of their travel bookings,” said Ellis.
Other tour operators like Walk In Hong Kong are raring to go, once further restrictions are eased. Said the outfit's managing director Olivia Tang, “Our full team is still in place, so we can start accepting in-person tours whenever they resume.”
Like many tourism players, Walk In Hong Kong has also rolled out new health and safety protocols for guides, and while solid plans are still pending — tour sizes will rely on government guidelines — fresh promotions with hotels, and buy-one-get-one and
family discounts have been designed with kick-starting the tours in mind.
And while Tang is “cautiously optimistic” about the industry sparking back to life, she warns that vaccination — a cornerstone of any travel restart — in Hong Kong has been slower than expected.
She added, “Globally there are still many concerns about virus mutation, and based on past experiences, we could have subsequent waves of Covid. We think we’ll be experiencing these ups and downs for a considerable amount of time, maybe two to three years.”
Genting Cruise Lines' president Kent Zhu is encouraged by the direction of the Hong Kong government in the planned easing of some of its travel restrictions and hopes that this will extend to local cruise operations in the near future as well.
Looking forward, Genting Cruise Lines hopes that Hong Kong will be able to join Singapore and Taiwan, along with the recently announced plans for Crystal Serenity to restart in The Bahamas and the planned resumption of Star Pisces from Penang, Malaysia, as a post-Covid-19 pioneer, he added.