HONG KONG, July 17 (Reuters) – Tourist numbers in Hong Kong are falling and hotel occupancy rates are plummeting after the Chinese-ruled city was rocked by sometimes violent political protests during the month last, adding pressure on its already struggling economy.
The declines reported on Wednesday came a day after Hong Kong retailers warned that sales in July and August could fall by double digits from a year earlier as tourists postpone visits.
Like many export-dependent Asian economies, Hong Kong has been hit hard by the year-long trade war between the United States and China and saw its slowest growth in nearly 10 years in the first quarter.
Trade and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau said on Wednesday he had seen “negative signals” from the economy beyond known declines in trade, retail and freight over the past five at first six months.
“Three weeks ago, I met with the tourism sector and they expected an impact of 5-10%, but now the hotel sector fears the impact is no longer significant,” Yau told reporters. .
The government will increase funding to better help small businesses, he added.
The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said on Wednesday the number of tour groups from mainland China fell to 5,641 in June from a monthly average of 7,800 at the start of the year.
Hotel occupancy rates fell 20% in June from a year earlier and are expected to drop 40% in July year-on-year, he said. Hong Kong is one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations and a global financial center.
Millions of people have taken to the streets over the past month to protest a bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to be tried in Communist Party-controlled courts.
Some of the protests have turned violent, with clashes between police and protesters, and the city is bracing for more unrest in the coming weeks.
Government officials have said the extradition bill is effectively dead, but campaigners say they want it officially withdrawn.
On Monday, Finance Secretary Paul Chan said economic growth in the second quarter would be slower than in the first, hurt by trade tensions.
He said he had not seen any obvious capital outflows sparked by the protests, but the violent clashes would damage Hong Kong’s international image. (Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Kim Coghill)