Cash flow, manpower problems delay tourism recovery

View Gallery 2 Photos

Tour-guide shortages and cash-strapped coach operators have been blamed for a slow rebound in local tourism.

Hong Kong Tourism Association executive director Timothy Chui Ting-pong said it would need a few more months for the tourism sector to restore full capacity to cope with demand.

Chui made the revelation on the radio yesterday as a 3,000-member corporate tour group from the mainland had to cut short its plan for an annual general meeting in the SAR from an overnight stay to a single-day trip due to a failure to find enough tour guides, coaches and drivers.

The large group arrived in Hong Kong via the Shenzhen Bay port yesterday morning.

"It was so great! We have been looking forward to the 'metaverse seminar' since we were in Shenzhen," one of the members, Gong, exclaimed.

She said 60 percent of her colleagues were not staying overnight.

However, some would stay behind - including Lu who planned to remain for two days to meet friends.

"It's so convenient now after the border has reopened, we can come again on our own next week," Lu said.

Chui said that despite the shortened visit, the mainland company "cast a vote of confidence" in the city by holding its annual meeting here.

According to Chui, many coaches have been left unused for three years and are in need of maintenance that may cost up to HK$200,000 but "coach operators and travel agencies have used up their bullets" during the pandemic.

Many are still parked in Kwai Chung Container Terminals, he said.

He believed that the sector would be in a better position to receive tourists by the Labor Day golden week in May.

The situation is complicated by a shortage of tour guides, Hong Kong Tourism Industry Employees General Union chairwoman Sara Leung Fong-yuen said.

She said 90 percent of the guides have changed to a different field during the Covid.

"It's difficult to find a tour guide who can work for two consecutive days. Many can only take single-day tours on their days off," Leung said.

She said that there was even once a guide had to try to take a group during the free time of another group but the arrangement ended up chaotic.

Leung said there is also a shortage in drivers and as a result, it is expensive - costing HK$7,000 to HK$8,000 a day - to rent a coach.

Saying the industry was caught in a dilemma, she called on the government to provide living subsidies to attract workers to return to the industry.