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LCQ6: Facilitating the recovery of the tourism industry
     Following is a question by the Hon Yiu Pak-leung and a reply by the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Kevin Yeung, in the Legislative Council today (November 23):
     Some members of the tourism industry have relayed that Hong Kong's tourism industry has been hard hit by the COVID-19 epidemic for nearly three years. Although the Government has relaxed various arrival quarantine and anti-epidemic measures, such measures still cause great inconvenience to inbound travellers, resulting in very limited room for businesses for the tourism industry. In the first nine months of 2022, the number of visitor arrivals to Hong Kong was only about 250 000, a drastic drop by 99.5 per cent as compared to around 47 million visitor arrivals for the same period in 2018. The tourism and related industries are in dire need of learning the Government's direction and timetable for adjusting the various anti-epidemic measures, so that they can plan their pace for business recovery. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether, in the light of the latest development of the epidemic, it has assessed what conditions Hong Kong needs to meet before the Government will further relax the arrival quarantine arrangements to the effect that inbound persons are not required to undergo compulsory quarantine or medical surveillance, so as to facilitate the recovery of the tourism industry;
(2) currently how it is taking forward the arrangements for resuming more movement of people between Hong Kong and the Mainland; whether it has examined using hotels in Hong Kong as "pre-departure quarantine" facilities, so as to strive for having a breakthrough in respect of traveller clearance between Hong Kong and the Mainland; if so, of the details; and
(3) given that the tourism industry has undergone a long standstill, and that when resuming businesses, the industry needs to recruit manpower afresh and carry out repair and maintenance for conveyances, equipment and facilities which have been left idle for a long period of time, thereby making them face tremendous cash flow pressure, whether the Government will consider formulating new continuous support measures, including the establishment of a "travel industry business resumption fund", so as to facilitate the relaunch of businesses of the tourism industry and propel the recovery of the tourism industry?
     In respect of the question raised by the Hon Yiu Pak-leung, having consulted the Health Bureau, the Transport and Logistics Bureau and the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau, the consolidated reply is as follows:
(1) The direction of the Government's adjustments of prevention and control measures is simple and clear, that is, to reduce the number of restrictions and measures as far as practicable on the premise of the proper management of risks. For example, on inbound control measures, the Government lifted inbound compulsory quarantine on September 26, formally putting an end to the inbound compulsory quarantine requirement which had been in place for more than two years, and starting from November 21, enhanced inbound testing arrangement by lifting the compulsory nucleic acid testing requirement on Day 4 and Day 6 after arrival at Hong Kong for inbound persons from overseas places or Taiwan.
     The Government will continue to tackle the COVID-19 epidemic development under the principles of science-based and targeted anti-epidemic measures, as well as the proper management of risks and citizen-focused facilitation. The Government will also adjust anti-epidemic measures as appropriate based on analyses of scientific data in a bid to facilitate activities and people flow essential to socio-economic recovery, so as to safeguard the well-being of citizens and protect the public healthcare system while reducing the disruption to normal social activities, with a view to achieving the greatest effect with the lowest cost. The Government adopts a prudent and stable approach in adjusting various anti-epidemic measures, in order to avoid a rebound of the epidemic situation and backtracking along the path to normalcy as far as practicable.
     The Government will continue to closely monitor the epidemic situation outside Hong Kong, possible risks arising from winter influenza, development of virus variants, the capacity of local healthcare system, etc. Where conditions permit, the Government will enhance various measures in a progressive way. We will be able to create the greatest room for people's livelihood and economic activities if we continue to stand united in combating the epidemic.
(2) The HKSAR Government had been making efforts to pursue the work related to resumption of connections with the Mainland, including discussing with the Mainland related issues such as the "pre-departure quarantine" proposal and the compassionate quotas for travelling to Shenzhen, and will continue to spare no effort in deliberating with the Mainland so as to resume normal cross-boundary travel in a gradual and orderly manner under the premise of not increasing the risk of epidemic in the Mainland.
     As for the proposed arrangement of implementing "pre-departure quarantine" in Hong Kong, Mainland-bound travellers will be required to comply with the anti-epidemic standards of the Mainland in order to be able to travel to the Mainland under closed-loop arrangement after completing quarantine in Hong Kong. Hong Kong and Shenzhen are discussing the specific requirements for "pre-departure quarantine".
(3) The Government understands the business hardship faced by the tourism industry during the epidemic, and has therefore rolled out measures with over $3.88 billion funding commitment in the past two years or so, providing support to over 1 700 travel agents and around 21 000 travel trade practitioners, around 2 100 hotels and guesthouses as well as the cruise industry. The travel trade has also benefitted from two rounds of the Employment Support Scheme and licence fee waivers. In addition, we launched the Cultural and Heritage Sites Local Tour Incentive Scheme last month with a commitment of $600 million and have rolled out progressively from this month new rounds of Spend-to-Redeem Local Tours and Staycation Delights, and we will provide an extra round of quotas under the Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme next month, in a bid to continue boosting local consumption in the retail, hotel and catering sectors, and providing further support to the travel trade to prepare for the return of visitors.
     In respect of non-franchised buses, the Government has provided one-off non-accountable subsidy of $95,000 in total for each eligible registered owner of non-franchised bus (including non-franchised buses with tour service (A01) endorsement) under the Anti-epidemic Fund; and for the cross-boundary passenger transport trade, the Government provided subsidies to the cross-boundary passenger transport trade at different times from 2020 to help the industry to pay for the maintenance and inspection costs of related vehicles/ferries. So far, a total of $155,000, $145,000 and $3,000,000 have been granted to each cross-boundary coach, cross-boundary hire car and cross-boundary ferry vessel respectively.
     In order to alleviate the financial burden of the transport trade during the epidemic, the Government has waived various licence-related fees since 2019 and provided temporary parking spaces for idle non-franchised buses in suitable locations. Operators of the non-franchised buses with tour service endorsement, cross-boundary coach and cross-boundary hire car can also benefit from the above measures. As to the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme, it has been further extended for another six months to the end of July 2023, with the partial principal repayment option under the Scheme be enhanced at the same time to facilitate financially capable corporates to gradually resume normal repayment.
     The Government has been committed to expanding as far as practicable room for business operation for the trade on the premise of containing and combating the epidemic, thereby facilitating the gradual resumption of the inbound travel market in an orderly manner. We have allowed travellers to enter tourist attractions including theme parks, museums and temples when holding an Amber Code since last Thursday, and launched on last Friday specific arrangements for inbound tour groups, including allowing inbound tour groups to have meals in private rooms in restaurants as a group, and relevant travellers to undergo only one COVID-19 nucleic acid test on the day of arrival if the tour groups will only stay in Hong Kong for not more than four days.
     The Government will continue to closely monitor the epidemic situation and maintain communication with the trade, with a view to preparing for the recovery of tourism industry.
Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Issued at HKT 15:00
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