Norris Lo Chuk-lam
The bird flu scare in the mainland has had no visible negative impact on local tourism-yet.
Alex Tsang Sun-wa, a director of a local travel agency played down the effect of the recent bird flu warnings would have on tourism trends.
“This is different from the period during the SARS outbreak as Hong Kong is not directly affected by the disease this time,” he said.
He explained the dominant source of tourists for the city remained the mainland travellers who did not seem to express any concern over the disease.
He added the government had carried out a number of infection-prevention measures such as improving hygiene including that of tour buses, and body temperature checks of travellers upon arrival.
A local tour guide Sky Lip Bai-yat however disagreed and insisted the bird flu alarm would seriously affect local tourism.
“Bird flu is going to drop the number of tourists and the business is going to be miserable,” he said.
He added many tour guides showed dissatisfaction with their jobs and were worried the recent bird flu panic would hit hard on the slowly recovering industry.
“Huge workload and low pay make tour guides think they are only cheap labour, so they are not willing to make any improvement,” he said.
Mr Lip said many tour guides'salary had started to shrink two years ago when many cheap daily tours were offered.
Yet the small operations had failed to keep everyone going and some had closed down. “Those trips cost as cheap as $60 [each], which many tour agencies found difficult to run.”
He said a significant number of tour guides had switched to work freelance and their income had dropped by almost half.
“At the peak, a guide could earn $600 a day but the pay has now dropped to $400, sometimes around $300 only. Some of us have decided to quit.”
Local tourism businesses have been in the doldrums since the SARS attack in 2003. While some smaller travel agencies have since shut down, many more have been fighting on.
“So if bird flu breaks out, the travel agencies will find extremely hard to survive,” Mr Lip said.
Clara Mak Ka-wai