Pain for Hong Kong tourism staff as support funds run out

More than a thousand Hong Kong tourism workers could lose their earnings from December with the end of government wage subsidies.

Sunflower Travel said on Wednesday it was asking 300 agency staff to take unpaid leave between December and February due to its financial difficulties amid the pandemic. The company said if the border closure continued into February, the unpaid leave would be extended by three months.

Jason Wong, chairman of the Travel Industry Council, said more travel agencies will introduce similar cost-cutting measures this week.

Wong called on travel agencies to do their best to retain staff, as tourism demand would rebound after the implementation of “travel bubbles” with Singapore or the health code system with the mainland.

Alice Chan, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said 73 small and medium-sized travel agencies, each with four to 15 employees, had closed so far this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Most tour guides in Hong Kong have taken unpaid leave since the Lunar New Year after travel between the city and the mainland fell 99% due to quarantine requirements.

The Hong Kong government then launched a two-installment employment support program in which companies could be awarded HK $ 7,500 (USD 970) per month per staff member between June and November.

As the epidemic situation improved in October, the government gave the green light to tourist groups of up to 30 people last Friday and planned an “air transport bubble” with Singapore in November to allow those tested. negative for the virus to travel between cities without being quarantined.

Another 1,000 workers in the tourism industry could lose their income from December 1 as two or three other major travel agencies could stop paying salaries while retaining their jobs, Tong Kim-sang, who chairs the Travel Industry ( Outbound) Tour Escort and Tour Guide Union, RTHK said.

Local tours could not save the travel industry as they could only generate HK $ 20-30 per person, which was not even enough to pay the guides, Tong said, adding that most of the employees of the Travel agencies would agree to keep their jobs without pay due to the worsening job market in the city.

Hong Kong Tourism Association spokesperson Timothy Chui said many travel agencies could not survive from December 1. He said the cost for travel agencies to organize local tours had increased as they had to purchase additional masks and hand sanitizer.

On Monday, several coaches staged a slow-motion protest from Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai to the seat of government in Tamar. The Hong Kong Travel Agent Owners Association said the drivers of more than 1,000 coaches have been forced out of work since January. He urged the government to roll out mandatory testing for Covid-19 so travelers can be allowed to move and cross the border.

Simon Lee, senior lecturer and co-director of CUHK Business School’s Chinese international trade and business program, said the government should launch another round of employment support to avoid a sharp rise in unemployment.

On September 25, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the government did not yet have a plan to launch the third tranche of the program. He said a total of HK $ 4.5 billion would be delivered to companies in different industries, including tourism, aviation, transportation and catering.

On October 20, the government said the unemployment rate rose to 6.4%, the highest in about 16 years, between July and September, from 6.1% between June and August.

On October 21, Cathay Pacific announced that it was laying off 6,000 workers and would abandon its 36-year-old sister airline brand Cathay Dragon, as Hong Kong’s aviation industry was severely affected by the pandemic.

Felix Yip, associate director of the Center for Strategy and Human Resources Development at Baptist University, said the unemployment rate would exceed 8% by the end of the year. The massive layoffs at Cathay Pacific were just the tip of the iceberg, as more companies followed suit and laid off staff.

“Hong Kong is an export city, so we have very close contacts with other countries, especially the United States and Europe. If they can’t improve, I doubt Hong Kong’s economy can improve, ”he said.

A survey conducted by the university between July and September showed that 30% of the companies surveyed had already downsized, he added.

Over the past two weeks, several local infections have been recorded in Hong Kong, making Beijing reluctant to allow residents of the territory to head north without being quarantined.

Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Jeffrey Lam said Hong Kong would likely have to wait until April before any local cases were reported for 14 consecutive days. He said he hoped chief executive Carrie Lam, who visits Beijing next week, could pressure the central government to allow some Hong Kong people to visit the mainland without the 14-day quarantine.

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