LCQ19: Support for tourism industry

     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Tik Chi-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (June 22):
     Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 epidemic, the Government has repeatedly provided support for the tourism industry. However, as normal traveller clearance between Hong Kong and the Mainland as well as other places has not yet been resumed, the business situation of the industry remains extremely critical. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has plans to disburse again cash subsidies to licensed travel agents, travel agents' staff and drivers of tour service coaches, so as to ensure that they can commence service immediately when the tourism industry recovers;
(2) as it has been reported that the vast majority of the non-franchised public buses engaging mainly in tour services (commonly known as buses with licence A01) still have their services suspended and most of their owners are still required to repay car loans, whether the Government will provide such owners with financial assistance again and explore with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to extend the implementation period of the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme to until one year after the resumption of normal traveller clearance, so as to help such owners tide over the difficulties; and
(3) whether it will consider providing subsidies for all primary and secondary schools, kindergartens and related welfare organisations in Hong Kong for organising at least two local tourism activities in the coming year so as to promote local tourism, thereby generating more businesses for travel agents and companies of tour service coaches?
     The Government understands that tourism-related industries have been facing a difficult business environment due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic situation, and has therefore been providing support through various means and maintaining close liaison with the trades.
     Having consulted relevant bureaux, our reply to the question raised by Dr the Hon Tik Chi-yuen is as follows:
(1) In the past two years or so, the Government has rolled out financial support and schemes with over $3.88 billion funding commitment to support the travel trade, including providing seven rounds of direct financial support to the travel trade through the Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF), benefitting over 1 700 travel agents and around 21 000 practitioners covering travel agent staff, tourist guides, tour escorts, and drivers of tour service coaches, around 2 100 hotels and guesthouses as well as the cruise industry, and have been supporting the trade through the Travel Agents Incentive Scheme and the Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme (GLIS). On the other hand, the travel trade is also benefitted from the two rounds of Employment Support Scheme under the AEF.
     In addition, the Government has earmarked a total of $1.26 billion in the 2022-23 Budget to support and develop the tourism industry, of which $600 million will be allocated to implement the Cultural and Heritage Sites Local Tour Incentive Scheme for encouraging the trade to develop and launch more tourism itineraries and products with cultural and heritage elements as well as supporting the operation of GLIS; $60 million will be allocated to subsidise the training of tourism practitioners for improving the professional standards and service quality of the tourism industry; and additional $600 million will be allocated to the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) to revive the tourism industry, so as to prepare for the return of visitors. The various measures will help the tourism industry to set off again after the epidemic.
     Apart from financial support, the Government has also been creating rooms for business for the trade on the premise of containing and combating the epidemic. Among these, with the phased and gradual relaxation of social distancing measures from April 21, 2022, various tourism facilities and activities, such as theme parks and local tours, have been reopened or resumed. HKTB has also been using the "Hong Kong Summer Treats" platform for promotion to support local tourism and has so far rolled out seven rounds of Local Tours Programme and Staycation Delights to stimulate local consumption on retail and catering, and encourage the general public to take part in local tourism as well as experience the services and facilities of local hotels.
(2) In view of the impact of the epidemic on the local transport sector, the Government has implemented a series of relief measures under the AEF. For non-franchised buses, the Government has provided one-off non-accountable subsidy of $95,000 in total for each eligible non-franchised bus (including non-franchised buses with tour service (A01) endorsement) under the AEF so as to assist the trade to tide over the difficult period.
     In addition, in order to alleviate the financial burden of the trade during the epidemic, the Government has waived the fees for vehicle licence for commercial vehicles, vehicle examination for licence renewal, Passenger Service Licence, Passenger Service Licence Certificate and Closed Road Permit from December 30, 2019, to December 29, 2022, as well as provided temporary parking spaces for idle non-franchised buses in suitable locations. Operators of the non-franchised buses with tour service endorsement can also benefit from the above measures.
     As to the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme launched by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) together with the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism in May 2020, it covers all corporate customers, including those in the transportation sector, with an annual sales turnover of HK$800 million or below.
     In view of the severity of the fifth wave of the epidemic and its impact on the challenging operating environment for individual corporates, the HKMA and the banking sector decided in February 2022 to extend for the fourth time the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme by six months to end-October 2022. Moreover, for the transport sector, the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism has, in January 2021, recommended banks to actively consider extending the maximum loan tenors for existing commercial vehicle loans having regard to the circumstances of individual borrowers. The same principles under the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme are also applicable in handling requests for principal payment holiday and extension for commercial vehicles loans taken out by personal customers.
     The HKMA will continue to maintain close dialogue with the banking and commercial sectors, pay close attention to changes in the operating environment for corporates, and review the current relief measures as and when appropriate.
(3) The Education Bureau has been providing resources to primary schools, secondary schools and kindergartens through various subsidies or schemes for arranging life-wide learning activities dovetailing with needs of learning and teaching, including local field trips and visits, so as to foster students' whole-person development and personal growth.
     For non-governmental organisations subvented by the Social Welfare Department, they may, subject to their compliance with the Funding and Service Agreement, flexibly deploy resources and organise activities in different manners to meet the needs of service users.

Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Issued at HKT 15:13