Retailers and hoteliers bear the brunt as protests cripple businesses in city

Updated: 2019-12-03 07:37

By Luo Weiteng in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong's retail and hotel sectors have yet to recover if the latest sales figures are anything to go by, with the city continuing to be mired in nearly six months of violent protests.

The value of retail sales in October plummeted by 24.3 percent from a year earlier, widening a loss of 18.3 percent in September and worse than a 23 percent fall in August.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, total retail sales in the first 10 months of this year fell by 9 percent compared with the same period last year.

Retailers and hoteliers bear the brunt as protests cripple businesses in city

October's retail performance marked the steepest year-on-year decline for a single month on record, and even worse than that recorded in September 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po warned on Monday the tourism industry is bracing for a more than 50 percent plunge in visitor arrivals, with the jobless rate in the catering sector surging to 6.1 percent.

A pillar of the Hong Kong economy, the tourism sector employs more than 250,000 people, accounting for 6.7 percent of the city's workforce. In the third quarter of this year, overall visitor arrivals in the SAR tumbled by 26 percent from a year earlier to 11.9 million - the sharpest year-on-year drop since the second quarter of 2003.

Visitor arrivals in October were down by more than 40 percent. It will be worse in November with the tourism business facing a more than 50 percent slump in visitor arrivals, said Chan.

So far, 40 countries and regions have issued travel alerts or advisories for Hong Kong.

Retailers and hoteliers bear the brunt as protests cripple businesses in city

"The current wave of violent clashes is the main culprit," Chan said. "If we want to have the travel alerts or advisories lifted, halting the violence and restoring order are of paramount importance."

Hotel operators are equally in dire straits. The average hotel room occupancy rate in the first quarter of 2019 dived from 91 percent a year earlier to 72 percent.

From August to October, the unemployment rate in the food-and-beverage services sector rose sharply to 6.1 percent - from 4.3 percent in the second quarter - the highest in more than six years. Compared with the second quarter, the number of workers in the segment dwindled by about 47,000.

"The 'winter' is coming," Chan said.

The government is considering a new round of stimulus measures that will be revealed when the time is ripe.

The Li Ka Shing Foundation, founded by Hong Kong's richest man, said on Monday HK$900 million out of a HK$1 billion donation will be released to successful applicants in the catering, retail and tourism sectors, as well as street peddlers and vendors, within 60 days.

The remaining HK$100 million will be set aside for eligible applicants who were not chosen during the first and second rounds of funding through a random online draw.

The three rounds of "emergency cash" have received more than 43,000 applications, with nearly 27,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises and vendors set to benefit.

Up to 1,584 licensed small and medium-sized travel agencies and 4,942 licensed vendors have applied for the third batch of funding.

(HK Edition 12/03/2019 page4)