Lamma businesses say lingering fears over ferry crash keeping visitors away
Once the spot for seafood and ocean air, people are steering clear of the island since the tragedy
Ada Lee and Johnny Tam
People looking for a special seafood dinner or a walk along the ocean are giving Lamma a miss these days, boat operators and restaurant managers say.
Christmas season can be a busy time for the famed restaurants on the island. But since the fatal ferry accident in October, business is down by as much as 20 to 30 per cent, owners say.
An employee at Wai Kee Seafood Restaurant in Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma, said it had been "very quiet" after the tragedy.
"I don't know how to estimate how much business we have lost. There's nothing we can do. People have to overcome their fear of getting into a boat and coming here," she said.
Boat companies that carry passengers to the island said people preferred to venture to other seafood hotspots such as Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun.
The New Year's Eve show on Monday will be the city's first big fireworks display since the accident, in which a public ferry, the Sea Smooth and the Hongkong Electric motor launch Lamma IV collided, killing 39 people.
Police assure the public the 100 pleasure vessels expected around the harbour for the fireworks were well within the area's capacity of 140 boats.
Fat Tat Hong, a travel agency that specialises in boat trips, expects about 20 of its boats to be on the water on Monday night.
The agency's chief executive, Albert Cheung Yau-kwong, said 30 to 40 per cent fewer people were choosing Lamma as a destination so its boats were not stopping there for dinner.
"The tragedy had little [direct] impact on us in general. It's just like traffic accidents. They happen every day but people still go out," he said.
The company raised its booking prices 5 per cent this year. Catamaran Club, a smaller boat rental firm, reported a drop in business of about 20 to 30 per cent since the tragedy.
Last year, it rented out three boats, but this year it has a booking for only one. "Fewer people ask about boat trips," said marketing manager Hermine Kay. "Some business clients said they felt uncomfortable going to Lamma. They wanted to switch to Cheung Chau, but they found it not as well equipped as Lamma."
Large firms, such as Traway Travel and HYFCO Travel Agency, said they raised fares for this year's show, and there were still vacancies on the boats.
Police are bracing for about 100,000 people at the Victoria Harbour waterfront for the show.