Tourists take photos on Victoria Peak with a view showing residential and commercial buildings in Hong Kong, Sept 27, 2018. (ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)
Hong Kong's tourism industry will be struggling to make a full recovery in the short term, despite the resumption of quarantine-free travel with Chinese mainland, as the industry faces a severe manpower shortage following the three years of disruption due to the pandemic, according to a expert.
Steve Huen Kwok-chuen, executive director of travel agency EGL Tours, said the tourism industry has gone through an unprecedented crisis as a result of the pandemic, with many employees switching jobs to make ends meet.
During the pandemic, the Hong Kong SAR government had offered positions at community testing centers and quarantine stations with attractive salaries
“The problem of a shortage of manpower in the industry after the pandemic is not unique to Hong Kong; many countries' airlines, airports and real estate staff are all facing labor shortage problems, especially airlines,” said Huen.
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He added he expects the industry to take at least until the third quarter of 2024 to return to pre-pandemic levels.
He said his travel agency has increased the number of its staff members from about 160 to around 230 but that is still only a third of the staff the company employed before the pandemic.
Although quarantine-free travel between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Chinese mainland has resumed, those who previously worked in the tourism industry are not rushing to return to the industry, Huen said. Instead, they have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, and are waiting for signs that the sector is about to fully recover.
During the pandemic, the Hong Kong SAR government had offered positions at community testing centers and quarantine stations with attractive salaries — given the high risk of contracting COVID-19 — of about HK$30,000 ($3,840) per month, which provided some hope to those who had lost their jobs.
“After more than two years of salary freeze in the industry, it is absolutely difficult to offer higher salaries to attract manpower in the face of the industry's recovery; instead, priority will be given to salary increases for older employees who have been sticking to the industry,” Huen said.
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After the three-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the first phase in normal cross-boundary travel between the Chinese mainland and the Hong Kong SAR began on Jan 8, with a daily quota of 60,000 in each direction.
Only 20 percent of the quota at most will be tourists, and they will not be in group tours, said Fanny Yeung Shuk-fan, executive director of the Travel Industry Council.
She expects that visitors to Hong Kong on group tours will start to see an uptick around early to mid-February.