The tourism sector says the latest coronavirus restrictions imposed by the government that effectively banned local tours have dealt a further blow to the ailing trade, as it called for financial support beyond the HK$600 million pledged by the chief executive last week.
In a statement released on Tuesday night, authorities announced that tour groups and religious activities would no longer be exempt from social-distancing restrictions due to the worsening Covid-19 outbreak in the city. That means a two-person gathering limit will apply.
That spells an end to local tours that have become popular in recent months due to the absence of mainland and foreign tourists.
In light of the latest situation, the Tourism Board has also suspended a scheme offering free tours to local people who spent over HK$800 at shops.
The chairman of the Travel Agent Owners Association, Freddy Yip, lamented the suspension of local tour groups.
"Although the response for these local one-day tours is not so good as expected, some of the travel agencies they work really hard and try to get a lot of customers to book. Now they need to refund the money to them, and they need to cancel the arrangements, the reservations for the tourist coach, the guides, restaurants, etc. So, what can we do?" he said.
Yip said while he understands the government's concern for public health, he'd like to point out that public transport is still crowded during peak hours.
He said in the past, only a few of the 1,700 licensed travel agencies in town operated local tours, but more firms are dipping their fingers in the pie since the government began to offer cash incentives for companies organising green local tours.
Travel agencies have already begun cutting jobs, with Wing On Travel sacking 120 workers this week and other firms expected to follow suit.
Last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pledged HK$600 million in support for the ailing industry, offering a cash subsidy to licensed travel agents, tour guides and coach drivers.
Yip called on the government to do more.
“They need to start to think where to find the money and how much to be given to the travel industry to help them," he said.