Chief Executive Carrie Lam has pledged around HK$600 million of additional support to help the city's tourism sector, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
In her annual Policy Address, Lam described tourism as "one of Hong Kong’s four pillar industries" that employs nearly 260,000 people.
"With cross-border people flow almost coming to a standstill, business is nearly frozen,” she said. “In view of this, the government has implemented a number of targeted relief measures since the second half of 2019 to help the industry tide over this difficult period.”
The support measures will include a series of one-off cash subsidies for about 24,100 people working in the sector including travel agents, tour guides, and tour bus drivers.
Some 19,000 people who work as freelance accredited tour guides or tour escorts will be eligible for a one-off subsidy of HK$15,000 each.
The government also said some 3,400 tour coach drivers will benefit from a one-off HK$6,700 cash subsidy.
There will be a one-off subsidy of HK$100,000 for licensed travel agents with 10 staff members or fewer. For those employing 11 or more people, the one-off subsidy amount will be directly proportional to the number of staff starting from HK$10,000 per person.
The government said some 1,700 travel agents are expected to benefit from this.
The lawmaker representing the tourism sector, Yiu Si-wing, said the subsidy package provides a "timely" relief that saved the industry from a wave of travel agency closures.
He said many businesses in the sector were struggling whether to fold after financial support from the government's anti-epidemic fund ends this month.
"Although this sum of money may only provide limited help to travel agencies with relatively more staff but at least it could provide some relief," Yiu said.
"But it is quite a big aid for micro businesses because their costs may be lower and I believe the measures can help them last for half a year."
The Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners Association also welcomed the government's commitment, saying would be especially helpful to smaller agencies.
But president Freddy Yip pointed out that the aid package left out most operators of cross-border buses or travel coaches. He said their operations had been halted since February.
“ At the same time, every month they have to pay the rent, they have to maintain the vehicles... pay the interest of the vehicles to the bank… that is all expense,” said Yip.
The tourism industry has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic with flights and cross-border travel mostly suspended. A travel bubble with Singapore that was meant to be launched this week had to be postponed for two weeks amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in the SAR.
Lam also said in her address that once the epidemic has eased, her administration will look into more local cultural and green tourism resources to revive the beleaguered industry.