The government's decision to cancel the National Day fireworks has alarmed some in the tourism trade while also sparking a debate over whether the display should ever take place again.
The government yesterday announced it was calling off this year's National Day festivities in Victoria Harbour as a mark of respect for the victims of the ferry crash, most of whom had been on their way to attend the display.
Some internet users argue that there are already too many celebratory fireworks displays, with others taking place on the calendar and lunar new year holidays. This year those displays saw a sharp fall in the number of boat trips in the wake of the disaster that claimed 39 lives.
National Day fireworks began after the handover in 1997. The following year, some 380,000 people turned out. The attendance had fallen to 310,000 by last year, for an event that attracted HK$6 million in sponsorship.
Ryan Tsui Chi-shing, the younger brother of Tsui Chi-wai and uncle to Tsui Hoi-ying, 10, who both died in the ferry crash, said he would rather see the money spent to help the families of the victims or the needy.
Lawmaker and Executive Council member Starry Lee Wai-king said it was time to review the fireworks displays. "Some citizens tell me that three times a year is quite a lot," she said.
But tourism industry veterans think otherwise.
Boat trips for the fireworks have long been popular, with more than 100 boats crowding the harbour on some nights. Attendance dipped dramatically for the two new year displays, but operators expect business to pick up in the future.
A manager at local agency Sunshine Holiday Travel said it sent out just four boats for the Lunar New Year even in February, down from 20 a year ago. She was shocked to learn that the National Day event had been cancelled without consultation with the industry.
"It is not necessary to cancel the fireworks," she said. "We can observe a minute of silence before celebrations."
Ricky Tse, chairman of the Hong Kong Inbound Tour Operators Association, says he respects the decision. But he believes the fireworks must return next year.
"There are car accidents every day, but we do not stop people from driving," he said. "Fireworks are an important attraction … to draw short-haul individual travellers. They also help to build a festive mood."
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said he does not believe the fireworks should be stopped indefinitely.
"National Day is a big event in any country," he said. "It is reasonable to have celebrations."