Many Hong Kong residents these days may not want to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule at all. On the one hand, this is due to the growing efforts of the Chinese government over the years to expand its influence in Hong Kong and suppress the democratic movement. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the city hard and almost paralyzed one of the pillars of the economy – tourism.
The devastating effects of a zero COVID policy
“Until 2019, Hong Kong was one of the most visited cities in the world,” says Wolfgang Eimann of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. However, due to the strict travel restrictions due to the pandemic, some of which are still in place, the sector has completely collapsed. For the whole of 2021, the official number of visitors was just 91,000, according to Ehmann. This compares to nearly 56 million in 2019. “This shows how devastating the impact of the zero spread COVID policy has been and continues to be on tourism in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong continues to enforce strict COVID-19 regulations, such as requiring face masks to be worn in public areas.
On the streets, a large number of closed shutters and closed shops and restaurants in malls are proof of how badly the economy has been hit by a lack of visitors. According to official figures, tourism accounts for about five percent of the city’s gross domestic product. More than 300 hotels operate in this sector and about 260,000 people are directly employed in this sector.
Most tourists come from mainland China.
The tourism industry has changed a lot in recent decades. “Shopping tourism is very important in Hong Kong today,” says Jianli Chen, owner of China Hansa Travel, a Hamburg-based travel company that organizes trips to his home country. “Chinese tourists from the mainland now play a much larger role than international tourism.” Official data confirms this. For example, in 2017, 76% of all visitors came from mainland China. Expensive watches, fancy bags, all sorts of branded merchandise are what wealthy mainland Chinese are looking for in Hong Kong, Chen explains.
Hong Kong is popular among mainland Chinese as a shopping destination.
The fact that such shopping trips — often only day trips — are possible is a direct result of the return of city power to China. Beginning in 2003, the Chinese government began issuing visas allowing individual travel to Hong Kong. Since then, nearly 300 million Chinese have used them. Hans-Wilm Schütte, a sinologist and author of several China and Hong Kong guidebooks, recalls a time when this was not possible. “The tourists in Hong Kong used to be Americans, Japanese, sometimes a few Europeans,” he says. “The fact that so many mainlanders are coming today is also related to [Hong Kong’s] transfer to the People’s Republic of China.”
It was formally concluded on July 1, 1997…