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SARS and Tourism in Hong Kong
SARS stand for Severe Acute Respiratory Illness. This illness, caused by a coronavirus, originated in China in 2002 and spread to Asia by 2003. SARS spread to several countries in Asia, South America, Europe and North America before the outbreak was contained. The illness is transmitted through respiratory droplets, when a person sneezes or coughs. Touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes can also spread the virus. The symptoms are similar to the flu and most patients develop pneumonia (Fact Sheet, 2004).
One industry that was particularly affected by SARS was the tourist industry. The Asian destinations suffered the most, particularly China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore (Clark, 2003). By May of 2003, the tourism business was significantly impacted, and perhaps Hong Kong was impacted the most. In Hong Kong, where there had been 299 deaths from SARS, the tourism dropped 86.8% (Beveridge, 2004). The number of deaths was greater than anywhere except for Mainland China. Prior to SARS, the Hong Kong Tourism board had a slogan that said, "Hong Kong will take your breath away." After the outbreak of SARS, this slogan became an embarrassment to the city and was replaced with the slogan, "There's no place like Hong Kong" (Hong Kong Tourism Slogan Falls Victim to SARS Virus, n.d.). Initially, though, the city was not so forthcoming with the potential dangers of SARS to the tourists. The tourism board denied claims that there was any cause for concern, even when they met travelers at the planes and tied masks around their necks. They claimed it was a time-honored tradition to tie the masks around the necks of the visitors and denied the dangers of SARS (Hong Kong Invites Tourists to "Come See the Softer Side of SARS," 2003). Eventually, the tourism board and the officials had to agree with the World Health Organization and limit travel in and out of Hong Kong to prevent wide spread passage of the infection. Unfortunately, the cavalier attitude that the officials expressed during the initial stages of the SARS outbreak, both in Hong Kong and in Mainland China, would hurt their reputation and currently, there are investigations and possible indictments rising from the inaccurate information that was disseminated from China and Hong Kong to the citizens of Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
Once travel was limited, the tourism business really took a hit. The Hong Kong government spent about $131 million dollars to attempt to attract visitors back to Hong Kong once SARS was no longer a threat (Hennock, 2003). An article by Alan Fung in the Asian Times (Fung, 2003), explains the reasons for the willingness of the government to endorse such large expenditures. Fung explains that in the beginning of 2003, Hong Kong was in an upswing financially. Unemployment was down, exports were soaring and the retail business had significantly improved. With the onset of SARS and the subsequent travel sanctions, the industry that accounted for 6% of the gross economy, was in serious trouble. The inbound tours, which generated a lot of tourism money, were down 80 to 90%. The hotel occupation went from 79% in March 2003 to 22% in April 2003 (Travel and Tourism in Hong Kong, 2004). Hotels, with only a limited number of rooms in use, opted to close entire floors or close to renovate. Rooms that were rented, were at a value price, therefore the increase in volume, once the SARS epidemic was over, could not make up the deficit (Travel and Tourism in Hong Kong, 2004).
Another tourism related industry, which was hard hit by SARS, was the transportation industry. The airlines and cruises were particularly affected, with a decrease of 9.5% or 560 billion dollars (Travel and Tourism in Hong Kong, 2004). They face the same long-term problems as the accommodations industry in that in order to sell more tickets, price reductions were initiated. Although this affected a positive effect on the volume of tickets sold, it reduced the value of the industry holdings, and would take a longer time to recoup the losses from the SARS outbreak.
Tourist visits from Europe and the United States were reduced with the threat of the war in Iraq, but although this would reduce the number of tourists, there would still be visitors from around the world. That is, until the SARS outbreak. Tourists from around the world no longer went to Hong Kong. One group of people that traditionally spend time and money in Hong Kong and contribute greatly to the tourism dollars is the visitors from the mainland of China. Traditionally, approximately 200,000 visitors from the mainland come to Hong Kong each Labor Day (Fung, 2003) and many more throughout the year. The visits from the Mainland China were significantly reduced. Although Mainland China had more deaths from SARS and was adversely affected also, their economy is not tourism driven, as is Hong Kong's. Their economy did not suffer from the lack of tourism as Hong Kong's did.
The loss in tourism money in Hong Kong was far reaching, even beyond the losses suffered by the hotels and airline industries. The restaurants and retailers also suffered losses, as did the export business. Other countries were fearful of products arriving from counties with the SARS epidemic. The thought was that there might be a way the virus could spread through the exported products. The Asian countries, not affected by SARS but who were geographically associated with the Asian countries that did have SARS, subsequently lost tourism dollars also.
In June 2003, the World Health Organization declared Hong Kong to be safe to travel to and from. Hong Kong began its journey back. The government of Hong Kong spent $25 million to build Hong Kong Disneyland (opening in 2005), Wetland Park (opening in 2005), and the Tung Chung Cable Car and to refurbish the existing tourist attractions (Fucanan, 2004). The 2008 Olympic Games will be held in Beijing. Although this is on Mainland China and not in Hong Kong, there will be many benefits to Hong Kong with its advent. Hong Kong will benefit with visitors, accommodations and transportation services. This was started before the influx of new visitors was expected to come, but more as insurance for satisfaction. According to Ms. Fucanan, the Hong Kong Tourism Board had a three-prong attack on how to revive Hong Kong tourism (2004). Prior to the removal of travel sanctions by the World Health Organization, the tourism board began putting out accurate information about the SARS outbreak. Secondly, the tourism board offered attractive packages with airline and hotel accommodations to appeal to potential visitors. Once the travel sanction was lifted, the tourism board offered a range of events, combined with dining and shopping events and promotional marketing activities.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board began by trying to start a spending spree in Hong Kong. They held the Hong Kong Super Draw in August and September of 2003. It was successful. Spending on retail sales increased to 11.2% from January through May 2004. The Hong Kong Tourism Board put on a Shopping Festival, was successful in attracting 1.3 million visitors in the first 23 days of the festival (Fucanan, 2004). The festivities went on until April 2004.
Jackie Chan, the actor, is the tourism ambassador for Hong Kong. According to Ms. Fucanan, the new advertising campaign for Hong Kong, publicized around the world is "Hong Kong: Live it, Love it." It seems to have worked well. The tourists are flocking to Hong Kong, almost like they did prior to the SARS outbreak of 2003. There has been a growth in tourism that is expected to represent about 30% growth in 2004 over 2003 (Fucanan, 2004). One of the largest groups of visitors has been the visitor from Mainland China, 5.67 million visitors to Hong Kong in the first half of 2004 (Tourism Performance, 2004).
In August of 2004, the hotel occupancy rate in Hong Kong was 88% and in August of 2004, the hotel occupancy rate was 90% (Tourism Performance, 2004). Other indicators have been used to measure the growth of tourism in Hong Kong. The visitors who have come to Hong Kong has increased from 1,644,878 in August 2003 to 2,066,469 in August 2004. This is a significant increase for Hong Kong and can be expected to continue to rise.
Hong Kong has taken other measures also, to ensure that the citizens and visitors are as safe as they can be. The streets are clean and the public is better informed about hygiene and what they can do to prevent the spread of illnesses. There are alcohol washes on desks and according to Chris Hogg, BBC Correspondent, there are thin strips of plastic over the buttons of the lifts and these are changed every few hours (Hogg, 2004). The public also has been instructed on the dangers of keeping animals separated from them and initiated new slaughtering procedures. Indeed, Hong Kong was spared the…[continue]
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