CEO Comments
Hoping for a Return to the Skies

Hong Kong International Airport enjoyed a record-breaking year in 2018, handling an incredible 74.7 million passengers. Overseas tourists and business visitors, transit passengers and Hong Kong people jetting off for frequent trips all benefited from our status as an aviation hub for Asia and the world. 

The pandemic put an end to this, with strict travel restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. We were not alone in this policy, and other locations that adopted this approach were largely successful in preventing the virus from spreading.

But now, as the rest of the world reopens, Hong Kong’s restrictions make us increasingly isolated. Singapore, for example, has removed quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers. Even New Zealand, which previously had among the strictest border policies in the world, is also reopening to vaccinated tourists. 

The Hong Kong business community is starting to have serious concerns about the long-term impact of the ongoing restrictions. For it is not just the airline sector that is affected, or even the broader tourism and travel industry, but every Hong Kong business is suffering from the inability to travel. 

The Chamber welcomes the recent relaxation of some of the aviation-related restrictions. Non-residents can now enter Hong Kong, and one week of mandatory hotel quarantine is certainly better than three. But a week-long hotel quarantine is still likely to put off the vast majority of business visitors and tourists.  

The flight suspension mechanism – where routes are banned if a certain number of positive cases are found – has also been relaxed slightly. But with this policy remaining in place, travellers still face a high risk of their flights to Hong Kong being cancelled at the last minute. 

Businesses are also increasingly concerned about the “brain drain” affect, as the restrictions have taken the shine off Hong Kong as an attractive place to live and work for locals as well as overseas talent. 

Businesses would like to see all travel restrictions removed immediately. The longer that the restrictions remain in place, the higher the economic cost we will pay. At least, further relaxation could be allowed without adding much risk, such as at-home quarantine for residents and an end to the flight ban. A more detailed timetable on the reopening process so businesses can start planning properly would also be welcome. 

With the Omicron variant proving to be less severe, and with most Hong Kong residents now vaccinated or having been infected, we have herd immunity which makes our harsh restrictions increasingly difficult to justify. 

Without the ability to travel, we cannot claim to be a world-class city. When other major cities were also shut down during the pandemic, we were all in the same boat, but now much of the world is getting back to normal. We remain confident that Hong Kong can recover, but we need to reopen our borders sooner rather than later if we want to maintain our status as a world-class aviation and business hub.

George Leung


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