Hong Kong tourism declined further in August, with some 78 per cent fewer visitors than the previous month, even as the city’s officials discussed forming travel bubbles with 11 destinations and local coronavirus infections continued to fall. Provisional figures from the city’s tourism board, which were released on Tuesday, showed that fewer than 4,500 people visited last month, a 99.9 per cent year-on-year slump, and a 78 per cent drop from the nearly 20,600 people who visited in July. Worldwide travel restrictions and fears of imported coronavirus cases have paralysed global tourism, and arrivals to Hong Kong in the first eight months of the year plummeted by almost 92 per cent, to 3.54 million, compared to the same period last year. Hong Kong travel bubbles: what conditions should they carry, and is it too late for tourism? Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the dismal figures were to be expected, as Hong Kong had tightened its travel rules amid the third wave of infections in July. “Most of the visitors are coming to Hong Kong for business or family matters; leisure tourists won’t come to Hong Kong just to be quarantined for 14 days,” Yiu said. He also said that resuming travel between Hong Kong and mainland China should be a top priority, as cross-border traffic could also boost other sectors, such as hospitality, retail and catering. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah revealed last Tuesday that the government had started talks with 11 countries to open up so-called travel bubbles. He added more substantive discussions between local health experts and their counterparts in Japan and Thailand, two of the most popular holiday destinations for the city’s residents, were already under way. Yau said that to make travel bubbles possible, coronavirus tests before departure and upon arrival might be required, while officials still needed to discuss whether negative results at both ends would allow travellers to skip quarantine. Reviving tourism would give a vital boost to the beleaguered sector amid the city’s deepest recession on record. Hong Kong’s economy suffered a 9 per cent contraction in the second quarter compared to the year before, on top of a similar slump in the first quarter. Hong Kong has gradually been lifting social-distancing rules as the city’s third wave of infections, which began in July, showed signs of abating, but quarantine measures for travellers have not changed. All visitors to the city, including Hong Kong residents arriving from overseas, are subject to a 14-day compulsory quarantine. Meanwhile, all but three of the city’s border checkpoints remain closed, with travellers only allowed to enter via Hong Kong International Airport, Shenzhen Bay, and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. About 2,300 people crossed the border from mainland China to visit the city in August, roughly 60 per cent fewer than about 5,700 that visited in July. Battered travel industry will take years to recover, says Booking.com The number was down 99.9 per cent per cent from the same period last year. Still, mainland visitors accounted for about 52 per cent of the city’s total arrivals in August, while the rest were from other long-haul and short-haul trips. Ann Yu Li-hua, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Professional Tourist Guides General Union, called on the government to focus on resuming travel with mainland China, the city’s largest source of tourists. “Even if borders are opened, we don’t expect a big rebound in tourism at once,” Li said, “Most travellers would come to Hong Kong by themselves rather than with a tour group.” Li also said that tour operators needed at least a month to plan tours, set itineraries, book accommodation for tourists and promote their packages before generating any revenue from taking tourists around the city. Hong Kong records no new local Covid-19 cases for first time since third wave began Tourism board chairman Pang Yiu-kai said seven major meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) events were planned starting in March next year. The board estimates the events will attract 20,000 participants in total. “The Hong Kong Tourism Board will take the opportunity to review Hong Kong’s tourism positioning and will continue to seek to attract high-yield visitors,” Pang said. Last year, such events drew 1.69 million people to the city for conventions and trade shows. Meanwhile, health authorities have allowed the city’s two theme parks to reopen. Ocean Park on Tuesday said it would open its doors to visitors starting Friday, and offered a 35 per cent discount for Hong Kong residents purchasing adult tickets. The park had previously announced it would suspend its annual Halloween festival due to uncertainties arising from the pandemic. Disneyland said it would announce its reopening date in due course.