Protesters move barricades to block the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel after taking part in a rally against a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong on August 10, 2019.
AFP/Vivek Prakash
Tourism in trouble: Hong Kong demos hit economy
Yan Zhao, Catherine Lai (Agence France-Presse) - August 11, 2019 - 11:19am

HONG KONG, China — Empty hotel rooms, struggling shops and even disruption at Disneyland: months of protests in Hong Kong have taken a major toll on the city's economy, with no end in sight.

City leader Carrie Lam has warned that the international financial hub is facing an economic crisis worse than either the 2003 SARS outbreak that paralysed Hong Kong or the 2008 financial crisis.

"The situation this time is more severe," she said. "In other words, the economic recovery will take a very long time."

The private sector, in particular the tourism industry, has begun counting the cost of more than two months of demonstrations that erupted in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to China but have morphed into a broader pro-democracy movement.

The figures are stark: hotel occupancy rates are down "double-digit" percentages, as were visitor arrivals in July. Group tour bookings from the short-haul market have plunged up to 50 percent.

"In recent months, what has happened in Hong Kong has indeed put local people's livelihoods as well as the economy in a worrying, or even dangerous situation," warned Edward Yau, Hong Kong's secretary for commerce and economic development.

The city's tourism industry says it feels under siege.

"I think the situation is getting more and more serious," Jason Wong, chairman of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, told AFP. 

The impact is so bad that travel agents are considering putting staff on unpaid leave as they try to weather the storm, he warned.

Even Disneyland hit 

Images of increasingly violent clashes between masked protesters and police firing tear gas in the city's streets have made global headlines, with protesters announcing new demonstrations throughout August as they press their demands.

A Hong Kong Tourism Board spokesperson told AFP that the number of forward bookings in August and September has "dropped significantly," suggesting the economic toll will linger throughout the summer season.

A string of travel warnings issued by countries including the United States, Australia and Japan is likely to compound the industry's woes.

The fall in arrivals has hurt Hong Kong's carrier Cathay Pacific, which was also forced to cancel flights this week during a general strike that caused chaos in the city.

And even Disneyland Hong Kong has been hit, with CEO Bob Iger telling reporters: "We have seen an impact from the protests."

"There's definitely been disruption. That has impacted our visitation there."

The retail sector has also been hit by the drop in arriving visitors hunting for bargains, shops often forced to sh

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