Friday, December 04, 2020

Travel bubbles 'key to get tourism rolling'

Sep 10. 2020
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By China Daily
Eleanor Huang

Hong Kong tourism practitioners said they have seen “a ray of hope” with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s initiative to set up travel bubbles with 11 countries. They added that the resilient sector is well-prepared to embrace the new normal brought about by the arrangement.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah revealed on Tuesday that some of the 11 countries the government has approached since June have given positive feedback, and the city is in “in-depth” discussions with Thailand and Japan.

Other travel bubble candidates are Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, France, Germany and Switzerland. With such agreements, residents of two places will be exempt from the mandatory 14-day quarantine if they meet certain conditions.

Key factors in reaching an agreement include the establishment of mutually recognized virus test standards, the implementation of additional travel restrictions for arrivals, and the control of the pandemic, Yau noted. 

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Lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who is also the chairman of China Travel Services (Hong Kong) Ltd, said the government initiative is a “glimmer of hope” for the pandemic-stricken tourism sector, adding that his travel agency is “more than ready” to launch new vacation tour groups after the arrangement is confirmed.

Drawing from the past anti-epidemic experience like working under SARS in 2003, Yiu said that his travel agency has already arranged COVID-19 safety and hygiene measures, which will help ensure customers’ health and safety during trips.

Leung Fong-yuen, the chairwoman of Hong Kong Tourism Industry Employees General Union, said that the travel bubbles, which will enable a certain level of cross-border mobility for travelers, could serve as a lifeline for desperate tourism practitioners.

“As long as there are foreign visitors in our city, there could be business opportunities, and this is how our workers can keep their jobs,” she said.

According to Hong Kong Tourism Board, overseas visitor arrivals in Hong Kong from January to July 2020 plummeted by 91.2 percent year-on-year.

A 23-year-old local flight attendant Bonnie Lee hopes the government move can revive the flight industry. Lee has had to take unpaid leave since the company suspended all flights in March. Although flights resumed in early August, she hasn’t been asked to report for duty yet due to low passenger numbers.

Tiffany Wong, a 26-year-old assistant bank manager, is happy that “travel bubble” discussions are underway. The travel enthusiast said she used to travel at least five or six times a year, but has gone on only one trip this year.  

The HKSAR government’s initiative was also welcomed by the Australian consul general in Hong Kong. On Wednesday, a spokesperson responded to a media inquiry that the Australian government is also considering whether to restart wider travel with low-risk countries or territories.

In May, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia opened their borders to each other, creating the first “travel bubble” within the European Union.

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