Rugby fans may be excited by the return of the Hong Kong Sevens, but the event’s economic value is likely to shrink from HK$400 million (US$51 million) in the past to HK$300 million or less, economists said. With overseas visitors still deterred by the city’s coronavirus restrictions, they said ticket sales would depend heavily on locals this year. But economists agreed that the tournament’s return from November 4 to 6, after an absence of almost three years because of the pandemic, could alert visitors to other big events in the pipeline as the city moved gradually towards normality. There will be 16 men’s teams from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, Kenya, Samoa and Hong Kong. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong reaped an estimated HK$400 million each time the tournament was held, with about 20,000 overseas visitors a day, accounting for about half the daily attendance. The biggest group of visitors came from Britain and Europe, and the rest were from Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Asia and the US. The Hong Kong Rugby Union, organiser of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, said past earning figures were derived from surveys asking visitors how much they spent on their hotel, food and drinks over an average of six days. This year, however, the Hong Kong Stadium can have only 34,000 spectators, because of an 85 per cent cap on its 40,000 capacity. The union said it was aiming for 30,000 spectators per day, a quarter fewer than before. They would be allowed to buy food and drinks at the venue and can bring their own food. Local fans snap up 25,000 tickets in run-up to Hong Kong Sevens All visitors to Hong Kong are subject to the “0+3” coronavirus regime of three days of medical surveillance. During that time, they are not allowed to go to restaurants and bars and must undergo regular rapid Covid-19 tests and polymerase chain reaction tests. Ticket sales for this year’s Sevens began on September 29. Rugby union chief executive Robbie McRobbie told the Post he was pleased with sales so far, saying more than 25,000 tickets had been snapped up so far in Hong Kong. “We have already exceeded our typical domestic sales of around 20,000,” he said. “With food sales now allowed, and three days of world-class rugby and live music on offer, fans can look forward to the typical Hong Kong Sevens atmosphere and I expect ticket sales will pick up the closer we get to kick-off.” Prices remain at 2019 levels, with a three-day pass costing HK$1,950 for adults and HK$950 for children 12 and under. From birth to Serevi to Covid, 45 years of firsts at the Hong Kong Sevens However, with many overseas visitors put off by Hong Kong’s Covid-19 restrictions, economists told the Post they expected the event to reap considerably less than before. Chinese University associate professor of economics Terence Chong Tai-leung said: “With a very upbeat estimate, the event could generate up to HK$300 million for Hong Kong assuming that all the 30,000-plus tickets get sold.” But he said the event was more about promoting Hong Kong and boosting the number of visitors. At present, only about 1,000 overseas travellers arrive each day. “HK$300 million is really not that much,” he said. “The focus is on whether the event will greatly boost the number of foreign visitors by raising their interest in Hong Kong.” Food to be sold at Hong Kong Sevens after all, but no BYO and fans need RATs He suggested that the government suspend the mask mandate temporarily for about a month to test if the city was ready to resume normality. At present, masks must be worn all the time in outdoor public places except in country parks or while performing strenuous physical activity such as exercising or jogging. Patrons of restaurants and bars must keep their masks on except while eating or drinking. From November 3, patrons will be allowed to remove their masks while taking photos on stage at events held in restaurants, bars and other premises. Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at financial services firm ING, was not optimistic the rugby tournament would attract overseas visitors, expecting it to earn the city about HK$150 million at best. “Don’t expect too much from it,” she said. “Most of the attendees will be locals and they won’t stimulate extra spending in Hong Kong.” Hong Kong Sevens: 23,000 tickets sold but stadium food ban ‘reducing demand’ But she added that the event should be regarded as a prelude to the city opening up fully to the world. “This event could act as a marketing and promotional drive to raise tourists’ attention about Hong Kong as a tourist destination as it gradually resumes normality,” she said. Thomas Shik, chief economist and head of economic research at Hang Seng Bank, predicted the event would earn the economy only about HK$200 million. Hong Kong Sevens on horizon as home team unveil squad for Asian title defence “Anyway, this is a good start,” he said, adding that its value lay in stimulating consumer sentiment. Rocky Tung, director and head of Policy Research at the Financial Services Development Council, said the rugby tournament and other coming events allowed Hong Kong to show business leaders and other visitors that they were welcome in the city. They would help showcase the city as “a vibrant business hub offering a range of lifestyle events”, and hopefully attract more events and visitors, he added.