Protests turning violent in Hong Kong affected Hong Kong International Airport for the last four days. The suspension of all flights on Monday created chaos in one of Asia’s most important hubs. The situation came slowly back to normal on Tuesday morning before shutting down again its doors in late afternoon following new protests.
Since Friday last week, Hong Kong International Airport was involved into the political and social crisis which is dragging down the former British colony of Hong Kong. For over nine weeks now, protesters are voicing their concern over Beijing central government assertive move to reign over the fate of the metropolis, despite the promise to let Hong Kong benefiting of a semi-autonomous status until 2047.
Tensions flared in the last two weeks marred with violence. Hong Kong airport has been then the theatre of sit-in protests with opponents to the government handling over to passengers flyers explaining their movement. Airport’s authorities then decided to restrict movements of the public over the week end by allowing only passengers with ticket and passport to check-in areas. Although it did not affect flights, it created long queues at check-in. On Monday, as protesters invaded the departure hall despite security measures, Hong Kong International Airport authorities suspended all flights. Home carrier Cathay Pacific indicated to have suspended some 200 flights.
However on Tuesday morning, authorities announced that all the flights had resumed with a total of 90 suspended frequencies last night due to depart in the morning. According to CNN, the airport website was however still mentioning some 300 flights being cancelled today on a total of over 800 daily frequencies. In the afternoon however, the situation changed. As protests came back to the airport, Hong Kong authorities closed again Asia’s largest international hub to flights following heavy clashes between protesters and the police inside the terminal.
On Wednesday morning August 14, the airport reopened again. However, authorities warn passengers that disruptions are expected as the airport will reschedule the flights affected by the turmoil. In a bid to get back control over the terminal areas, the Airport Authority Hong Kong has obtained an interim injunction to restrain persons from unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use of Hong Kong International Airport.
Persons are now restrained from attending or participating in any demonstration or protest or public order event in the Airport other than in the area designated by the Airport Authority.
Damage is however done as violence is now taking its toll on tourism activities. In July, hotels are claiming a decline in occupancy of 20% to 40% while the volume of retail sales was down by 7%. The trend accelerated since the start of August as violence increased. Hong Kong attracted during the first half year of 2019 over 1.29 million overnight tourists from Southeast Asia with top markets being the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. This represented a 3% growth compared to the same period of 2018.
The airport should also record a decline for the months of July and August, particularly after having been shut for two days. According to data from the airport, HKIA handled 37.8 million passengers from January to June this year, up by 2.5% over the same period of 2018. A new report of consulting group ForwardKeys indicates that Hong Kong recorded an accelerating fall in air booking in the last weeks.
ForwardKeys’ analysis indicated that in the period from June 16 to August 9, which has been marked by demonstrations, strikes and riots, flight bookings to Hong Kong from Asian markets have fallen by 20.2% on the equivalent period last year.
Between June 16 and June 29, bookings fell 9.0%; between June 30 and July 13, the drop was only 2.2%. However, from July 14 to August 9, there has been a dramatic drop in bookings of 33.4%. There is now clear evidence that the protests have reversed a positive travel trend in which bookings for the first six and a half months of the year were up 6.6% on 2018.
From June 16 to August 9, long-haul bookings to Hong Kong were 4.7% down on the equivalent period of last year
Confidence into the destination however is largely dented, a confidence that is fuelled by anxious comments of Beijing-appointed Chief Executive for Hong Kong, Carrie Lam. In a released statement following the airport closure, Lam declared it could take a “long time for Hong Kong to recover.”
According to Hong Kong local newspaper, the South China Morning Post, the Chief Executive warned protesters they were pushing the city “into an abyss” by attacking its institutions, in what she called attempts to “destroy the rule of law”, telling that the mass sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport, sieges of Police station and the blockade of roads had made the city no longer safe. This is not exactly the kind of words that tourists= especially in Asia- like to hear…
(UPDATED WEDNESDAY 14/08/19 10.00 am Bangkok time)