Hong Kong’s local tourism recovery looks positive, vaccines a big help
Published: Feb 19, 2021 05:13 PM

Photo taken on Dec. 1, 2017 shows nightly light show in Victoria Harbour, south China's Hong Kong. (Xinhua/Wang Xi)

The recovery of Hong Kong's local tourism industry looks positive as the city relaxes social-distancing measures, reopening two theme parks after they suspended operations for more than two months. COVID-19 vaccines will also bring confidence to the recovery of the city's economy.

Hong Kong's economy, which has been under siege from social unrest and the global pandemic for years, has suffered from a series of bad news, such as a rising unemployment rate. Analysts said pulling Hong Kong's economy out of the mire will still be a challenge for the local government. 

Hong Kong Disneyland reopened to visitors on Friday. It was the third reopening for the theme park since the global pandemic began. Its reopening followed Ocean Park, which reopened one day earlier. 

The restart of the theme parks came as the local government vowed to relax tough social-distancing rules for the first time since November, as the city has seen a drop in new COVID-19 cases, to single digits, for days. Local restaurants can now serve until 10 pm, gyms will reopen, and families can once again visit the city's theme parks.

Hong Kong is desperate to get back to normal daily life, as social distancing and travel restrictions brought by the epidemic continue to damage local businesses and destroy employment.

Official data showed that the jobless rate in Hong Kong in January hit the highest level in more than 16 years, and the global travel industry to Hong Kong reached a near standstill. Specifically, the number of global visitors to Hong Kong in January was only 4,370, a year-on-year decrease of 99.9 percent.

The Hong Kong government hopes to win the war with the help of the vaccine. The city has purchased 22.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, with 7.5 million shots from three suppliers: Sinovac Biotech, Fosun Pharma and AstraZeneca. The first batch of 1 million Sinovac vaccine doses from the Chinese mainland was expected to arrive in the city on Friday.  

The government announced it will roll out COVID-19 vaccinations for five priority groups next week, and the local transport department announced Friday that a new round of COVID-19 voluntary testing services will be arranged for taxi and public light bus drivers and employees of local ferry operators. 

"The government is trying to restore business order while ensuring the public's health and safety; the vaccines bring hope, and the government will soon take more policies to stimulate the economy," Li Xiaobin, a Hong Kong studies expert at Nankai University in Tianjin, told the Global Times on Friday. 

Matthew Cheung, chief secretary for administration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, said in a Sunday blog that as long as the city wins the war on the epidemic, Hong Kong will be able to resume normal business with the Chinese mainland and achieve a steady economic recovery.

Hong Kong has suffered an extended recession over the past two years, with its economy shrinking by a record of 6.1 percent in 2020, and retail consumption, a key pillar of the economy, also in a dire situation; it continued to decline due to restrictive social distancing measures.

According to analysts, shaking off the recession depends on effective internal governance and winning the public health battle. Also, the well-performing Chinese mainland economy could help repair Hong Kong's business. 

The Hong Kong economy is expected to see positive growth in 2021 as a whole, but the economic situation in the first half of the year will remain challenging, and the degree and speed of recovery will be subject to a host of uncertainties, especially related to the local pandemic situation, and evolving China-US relations and persistent geopolitical tensions also warrant attention, according to the government spokesman.

The Hong Kong government is expected to announce its 2021/22 budget next week, and the Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po expected the government to record a HK$300 billion deficit.