We can’t keep on subsidising the tourism sector: govt

Labour and Welfare Secretary Law Chi-kwong said on Wednesday that the government could not keep funding the ailing tourism industry – with no end in sight to the pandemic – leading to fears of more job losses in the sector.

Speaking on a radio programme, the labour chief painted a pessimistic picture for the industry, saying the level of unemployment in the trade remains high, despite a rebound in other sectors.

Law said it looks like the pandemic is here to stay for a few more years, adding that some developing countries are still struggling with the coronavirus.

The government had offered at least HK$2.6 billion worth of relief measures for the tourism sector to combat the effects of the pandemic.

But Law said it’s hard for the authorities to keep subsidising the tourism trade, and the practical thing to do is try to help people working in sectors that are struggling to change jobs.

Freddy Yip, the president of the Travel Agent Owners Association, said he was disappointed by the official’s remarks.

“If I were them, I would put more money to keep these existing travel agents or travel-related parties in the trade, not losing them… to other sectors,” he said.

Yip said it takes years to train personnel in the tourism sector, and letting them go now would be a huge loss to the industry in the long run.

“Once the pandemic is over, then everything will get back to normal. [When] the tourists start to come back to Hong Kong, I would like to ask Mr Law, the secretary, where to get these [workers] back? Who will provide services to them [tourists]?”

Yip said he expects more travel agencies to shut down if the government rules out further assistance for the trade.