Hong Kong must be made easier for tourists to visit

Over the last 12 months, I have returned to Hong Kong three times. In December, I was quarantined for 14 days. Quite aside from the inconvenience associated with being locked up for 14 days, the biggest problem then was trying to book a quarantine hotel. However, on actual arrival at the airport, I was hit by another problem. In the required Health Declaration Form, one has to fill in a Hong Kong mobile telephone number. Note, a Hong Kong mobile number. As I had moved to Singapore many years ago, I don’t have a Hong Kong number. Luckily, I have a family member living here, and so I filled in that box with her number. 

Subsequently, I found out that all the required PCR tests, done at community centers, all required that same piece of information — a Hong Kong mobile phone number. At that time, virtually the only people who could come into Hong Kong were Hong Kong residents. So perhaps that problem affected only me, and in general, was not a hindrance to other people. Needless to say, there were virtually no tourists coming to Hong Kong though one could imagine the hit to the tourist industry, and the loss of revenue to Hong Kong.

My second trip was in June. The quarantine period was seven days, and the same requirement for a Hong Kong number was there. The shorter quarantine period was of course better, but the tourists were still nonexistent for obvious reasons.

Now, with the “0+3” requirement, I was back in Hong Kong. I walked down Nathan Road, the Golden Mile, and what did I see? Many empty shops. The road that used to be filled with jostling tourists was not the same. No tourists to sustain those shops. It is my usual practice to chitchat with taxi drivers, and on this trip, I asked them about the impact of the 0+3 policy. “It benefits our neighbors.” That’s their common answer. As the policy has been implemented only since late September, it is difficult to acquire any meaningful related statistics. However, a quick look at the numbers of people departing from Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) shows that in September, the daily number of departures was 4,000 to 5,000, but jumped to over 7,000 per day in October. Could the taxi drivers’ conclusion be right? With the worry of having to be quarantined on coming back home removed, Hong Kong people can now satisfy their overseas-travel dreams. But has the system made it less onerous for the incoming tourists with no relatives in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong really should take a larger view of things, or it will continue to lose out on the tourism front

One of the things I enjoy about Hong Kong is the amazing cuisine. In my mind, there is no question that Hong Kong has the best-tasting food in the world. Imagine that for days, one is confined to buying takeout to be consumed alone in a hotel room during the three days of the 0+3 policy.

Then there is the problem of the requirement for a Hong Kong phone number in the health declaration form and in the reporting of the PCR tests.

Why not scratch the “amber” status of all incoming traffic, and allow people to go to restaurants? At most, require a rapid antigen test on arrival at HKIA.

Regarding the telephone number, why not scrap that as well? How is a person who has no relatives or friends in Hong Kong going to meet that requirement?

If it is really deemed necessary to provide a phone number for the reporting of the compulsory PCR test results, allow tourists to fill it with their own home country’s mobile phone number. Is it a matter of cost? An SMS message to overseas numbers costs more than an SMS message to local numbers. If it is a cost consideration, incur a charge for anyone who uses a foreign mobile phone number. Let us say a charge of HK$100 ($12.74) is made for that; a tourist who has spent thousands of dollars on airfare and hotel fare is not going to begrudge that.

Since the adoption of the 0+3 policy, local hotels are now finding it hard to fill the rooms. There are no more quarantine guests to fill the rooms, and the tourists are not coming.

Since the scrapping of quarantine requirements in Singapore, tourists have been streaming in, and the recent success of the Formula One Grand Prix there validates the termination of quarantine. Allowing that Hong Kong is not prepared to scrap all restrictions or tests as Singapore has done, at least it should remove the “amber” status of incoming traffic, and though still requiring them to have a PCR test, perhaps allowing the reporting of the results to any mobile phone number could ease the situation. And if it’s a matter of the cost of sending an SMS message to an overseas number being the reason for the restriction to Hong Kong numbers, then impose a charge on those using a foreign phone number.

Hong Kong really should take a larger view of things, or it will continue to lose out on the tourism front.

The author is a physician by training, and a specialist in hematology who works in Singapore.

*The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.