【明報專訊】The eight-day Mid-Autumn and National Day Golden Week holidays began yesterday (October 1), the first golden week holidays in the real sense in mainland China since the outbreak of COVID-19. An upsurge in travel everywhere has been reported. To a certain extent, however, this golden week is just a test. It is not only a stress test of the safety of people travelling together intensively under the normalisation of pandemic prevention, but also a test of how successfully the travel industry can resume business and production and explore new ways of operation after the pandemic.
The mainland tourism industry also sees this golden week as a golden opportunity to recover from the pandemic. According to figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, both the number of people taking part in domestic travel and the number of tourists received by travel agencies in the first quarter of this year dropped by more than 80% year-on-year.
But by July and August, all of the country's tourist resorts had returned to business, with the number of tourists received and revenues returning to about 90% of last year's total. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has raised the upper limit of visitors to the country's scenic spots from 50% of total capacity to 75% to prepare for this golden week. However, it is still too early to expect that there will be "revenge spending" this golden week to compensate for the losses inflicted by the pandemic.
First, the impact of the pandemic on the economy has yet to diminish. Although the total retail sales of consumer goods grew by 0.5% year-on-year in August, the first time it has turned positive this year, the cumulative year-on-year decline from January to August was still 8.6%, and the momentum of recovery is slowing down. In addition, the disposable income per capita of all residents decreased by 1.3% in the first half of the year, indicating that consumption has been the weakest link in the economic recovery due to the impact of the pandemic. Secondly, the normalisation of pandemic prevention and control has led to the emergence of a new tourism model, which has added to the difficulties faced by operators.
As the borders remain shut between Hong Kong and the mainland, the 800,000 practitioners in Hong Kong's tourist industry who have been hard hit have yet to benefit from the golden week. As Hong Kong Tourism Board Chairman Pang Yiu-kai predicts, it will take time for the number of visitors to recover gradually and the majority of first visitors will be short-haul travellers. They will make medium- and long-haul travels only after their confidence is restored.
A month ago, the HKSAR government intended to discuss the implementation of "travel bubbles" with 11 countries. Now it seems that it will take time for foreigners to have confidence in the prevention and control of the pandemic in Hong Kong, while at the same time allowing people to travel safely outside of Hong Kong without contracting the disease or importing it into the territory. It also takes time for Hong Kong people to be confident about travelling abroad and travellers to visit our city.
In addition, the tourism industry must also address squarely the differences between the new mode of tourism after the pandemic and the old one before it. It will need to think about changes in the way it does business. It is not enough just to have standard procedures for travel hygiene, and some procedures are even beyond the capacity of the industry. For example, in order to cope with the large number of tourists, the government has to provide support in terms of accredited nucleic acid testing capacity and quarantine capacity at border control points.
At the same time, it is a new challenge for Hong Kong as a whole to establish a comprehensive case notification mechanism with the relevant regions and to trace the sources of imported and exported cases in a timely manner with the protection of the privacy of citizens being prioritised. Compared to vigorous publicity campaigns to compete for tourists, a more pressing task is to build such infrastructure.
upsurge : a sudden large increase in sth
squarely : directly or exactly; without confusion
accredit : to officially approve sth/sb as being of an accepted quality or standard