pandemic rules eased, but business travellers put off by quarantine, risk of cancelled flights


  • Business leaders warn that city risks losing out to rivals opening up and moving on from pandemic
  • Most business travellers prefer short trips, so spending seven days in quarantine a major turn-off

Tom Wellingham is planning his first business trip to Hong Kong in seven months as the city reopens its doors to non-residents on May 1.

The 39-year-old Briton living in Singapore works in operations for a food and beverage company throughout the Asia-Pacific region and used to visit Hong Kong monthly before the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020.

Since then, he has visited only once, spending 14 days in compulsory quarantine.

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Hong Kong to allow foreigners to fly into city starting next month

From May 1, all non-resident visitors must spend seven days in compulsory quarantine in a government-approved hotel, the same as returning residents.

“It’s the easiest it’s been to get to Hong Kong for some time, so I am going to try and get back in May and see the team,” Wellingham said.

“The food and beverage industry is a people business. It doesn’t work via a Zoom call indefinitely, and having face time with people in the market is super important.”

Although Hong Kong has reopened for the first time for most visitors in more than two years, business leaders were not expecting many arrivals. They said the mandatory quarantine and the risk of flight routes being banned when travellers test positive for Covid-19 remained too off-putting.



An area for passengers heading to quarantine in the arrivals hall at Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Yik Yeung-man


© Provided by South China Morning Post
An area for passengers heading to quarantine in the arrivals hall at Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Yik Yeung-man

Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce CEO George Leung Siu-kay warned that the city risked falling behind rivals that were opening up and moving forward swiftly.

“When every global business hub was shut down due to Covid-19, the cost of the disruption was borne by all, so we were all in the same boat,” he told the Post. “Now that the whole world is opening up and moving forward, Hong Kong risks losing out.”

He said expatriates or professionals working with multinational firms who could afford to stay for at least a month would come to Hong Kong, but they were the minority.

Most business travellers, including those taking part in exhibitions or meeting clients, came for a shorter period and preferred quarantine-free travel, he added.

Peter Burnett, chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, agreed, saying: “Most people on a business trip to Hong Kong want to spend perhaps a week. If they’ve got to spend a week in quarantine, and then a week out meeting people, it becomes altogether too time-consuming.”

At the same time, he added, travellers had to be mindful that their trips might be affected if Hong Kong banned flight routes because arriving passengers tested positive for Covid-19.

He said business trips were usually scheduled carefully with visits to multiple locations in the region, and a flight suspension could disrupt the whole programme.

“This becomes a huge disincentive to schedule a trip to include Hong Kong,” he said.

A foreign businessman based in Hong Kong said he would not recommend that his business partners visited any time soon.

“Quarantine is one issue, but the risk of being sent to a compulsory isolation facility is another,” he said, referring to the government-run facilities with minimum amenities where patients with mild symptoms were isolated.

Businesses have called for quarantine-free travel with mainland China and overseas, but Hong Kong has stuck with its “dynamic-zero” Covid-19 approach to tackling the pandemic with strict quarantine, isolation and social-distancing restrictions.

The city has recorded more than 1.2 million infections and over 9,300 related deaths.

Hong Kong travellers in a fix as airline routes face bans over Covid-19 passengers

Visitors have to book a room for their seven nights of quarantine at one of 55 designated hotels, and risk having to rebook if their arrival date changes because of a flight ban.

The government will ease its mechanism for triggering a flight suspension on Sunday, but the situation remains stressful for travellers.

From May 1, an airline will face a five-day route ban if a flight brings in five passengers found to be infected with Covid-19, or 5 per cent of those on a single flight, whichever is greater. The threshold was previously three passengers who tested positive, with a longer ban of seven days.

There have been 83 flight route bans so far this year. Currently there are nine bans in place, affecting Cathay Pacific Airways, Thai Airways, Emirates Airlines, Air Canada, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways.



Visitors have to book a room for their seven nights of quarantine at one of 55 designated hotels. Photo: Sam Tsang


© Provided by South China Morning Post
Visitors have to book a room for their seven nights of quarantine at one of 55 designated hotels. Photo: Sam Tsang

The 55 quarantine hotels have about 16,500 rooms and are offering bookings until July 31. Another four locations will be added in June and July.

A Hong Kong resident in his forties, who owns a restaurant and bar, told the Post he visited family in Britain for the first time in three years, but a ban on Qatar airlines doubled his trip to six weeks.

Asking to be referred to by his first name, David, he said he was able to rebook his flight, but his quarantine hotel was unavailable for his new dates and he had to change his air ticket again.

“Having to change flights and hotels is not easy or cheap,” he said. “Anyone who wants to get back on a specific date can’t count on it.”

Paul Chan Chi-yuen, co-founder of tourism firm Walk In Hong Kong, which served mainly business travellers before the pandemic, said he had not seen any signs of corporate or leisure travellers returning in May.

“Hong Kong is missing the first wave of travellers who have gone to quarantine-free neighbouring destinations such as Singapore, Thailand and South Korea,” he said.

In the first three months of this year, when Hong Kong battled a surging fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, there were 11,490 visitors, down 30.5 per cent from the same period last year, according to official data.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.



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