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Hong Kong is opening up to tourism — but is it too late?

(CNN) — Market vendor Mr. Chan gestures round what used to be certainly one of Hong Kong’s busiest streets.

“There are no tourists now, whatsoever,” he says. Mr. Chan sells silver earrings, necklaces and scarves on Tung Choi Street in Kowloon, which is well-known for its sturdy evening market.

The previous three years have been harsh on him. He stored his stall open till 10 p.m. earlier than the pandemic, but today he closes at 7 p.m.

He hopes for swift change with the top of quarantine, which had a devastating impact on companies that relied on tourism.

Hong Kong has taken steps in current days to reopen itself to the world, by first lifting its necessary three-day lodge quarantine, then asserting a world banking summit in November.

Officials hope the transfer will revive Hong Kong’s standing as a world enterprise and journey hub, but some locals really feel the change could also be too late.

Mr. Chan at his stall within the Hong Kong Ladies’ Maket.

Jan Camenzind-Broomsby/CNN

An extended winter

The lifting of the quarantine was acquired with elation by town’s residents, who’ve endured greater than two years of crushing pandemic measures.

At its most strict, Hong Kong’s quarantine guidelines required incoming vacationers to spend 21 days in a lodge room paid at their very own expense. Only Hong Kong residents had been permitted entry.

Those unfortunate sufficient to come from sure areas or nations with excessive numbers of coronavirus instances might discover themselves in a government-run facility.

As a consequence, journey out and in of the monetary hub was at document lows.

Once information of the top of quarantine was introduced on Friday, September 30, travel-starved Hong Kongers flocked to e book flights on-line. The metropolis’s flag provider Cathay Pacific set up a digital “waiting room” to get onto its web site, the place maintain occasions might simply stretch to half-hour.

The on-line journey reserving service Expedia mentioned its web site additionally noticed a 9-fold surge in seek for flights from Hong Kong to Tokyo and 11-fold for flights from Hong Kong to Osaka.

However, the curiosity in flights to Hong Kong remained unchanged, Lavinia Rajaram, Expedia’s Asia head of public relations, mentioned.

Once-thriving Mido Cafe closed in 2022 after foot traffic came to a standstill.

Once-thriving Mido Cafe closed in 2022 after foot site visitors got here to a standstill.

Jan Camenzind-Broomsby/CNN

An uneven success

Though lodge quarantine could also be gone, town nonetheless imposes a 3-day interval throughout which guests are barred from eating in eating places or going to bars. That and the sophisticated visiting necessities, which embody a pre-flight vaccination certificates and detrimental checks, might deter potential guests.

In November, Hong Kong plans to host the International Rugby Sevens match, which has been held yearly since 1976 apart from the previous two years. A well-liked spectacle that drew followers from overseas earlier than the pandemic, it is uncertain what number of will courageous the border restrictions.

While ingesting is allowed, meals might be banned on the occasion. Fans may also be required to put on their masks always besides when ingesting, in accordance to town’s authorities.

Hong Kong’s Asian neighbors together with Japan, Taiwan and South Korea took steps in previous weeks to take away the final remaining obstacles on journey, making them extra engaging locations for worldwide vacationers.

Another cloud hanging over the forecast is the persevering with zero-Covid regime in mainland China. In 2019, the final 12 months earlier than journey grew to become closely restricted, 78% of town’s guests came from the mainland.

Too late for some

The authorities’s effort to reopen and promote town got here too late for Maxence Traverse, a restaurant proprietor who had to shut his enterprise, Honi Honi Tiki Bar, final 12 months.

He says the nine-year-old bar couldn’t survive the 2019 protests and the pandemic. After a six-month hiatus, he opened a restaurant within the metropolis’s Tai Hang neighborhood but he is combating to preserve it going, he mentioned.

Traverse’s enterprise is certainly one of many within the meals and beverage trade that shut down completely through the pandemic. Some of town’s iconic Cantonese eating places — together with Mido Cafe, Jimmy’s Kitchen and Lin Heung Tea House — have additionally closed their doorways.

Traverse was tremendously upset when he noticed an interview with Hong Kong Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau, wherein Lo mentioned Hong Kong will proceed to open up except a brand new Covid variant emerges.

“I cried. Depression. Really hard, that hard feeling. I said, ‘Not again.’ Nearly third year in a row. You know, it’s been tough,” Traverse mentioned.

He believes merely reopening town is not going to be sufficient to restore what drew him there 12 years in the past.

“We need to be providing excitement for Hong Kong, because right now we lost so many things,” he mentioned.

CNN’s Jan Camenzind Broomby and Jadyn Sham contributed reporting.

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