Hong Kong demonstrations hit the tourist economy

Anti-extradition bill protesters walk through Sham Shui Po neighborhood in Hong Kong. (Reuters)
Updated 12 August 2019

Hong Kong demonstrations hit the tourist economy

  • A Hong Kong Tourism Board spokesperson said the number of forward bookings in August and September has “dropped significantly,” suggesting the economic toll will linger throughout the summer season

HONG KONG: Empty hotel rooms, struggling shops and even disruption at Disneyland: Months of protests in Hong Kong have taken a major toll on the city’s economy, with no end in sight.
City leader Carrie Lam has warned that the international financial hub is facing an economic crisis worse than either the 2003 SARS outbreak that paralyzed Hong Kong or the 2008 financial crisis.
“The situation this time is more severe,” she said. “In other words, the economic recovery will take a very long time.”
The private sector, in particular the tourism industry, has begun counting the cost of more than two months of demonstrations that erupted in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to China but have morphed into a broader pro-democracy movement.
The figures are stark: Hotel occupancy rates are down “double-digit” percentages, as were visitor arrivals in July. Group tour bookings from the short-haul market have plunged up to 50 percent.
“In recent months, what has happened in Hong Kong has indeed put local people’s livelihoods as well as the economy in a worrying, or even dangerous situation,” warned Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce and economic development.
The city’s tourism industry says it feels under siege.
“I think the situation is getting more and more serious,” said Jason Wong, chairman of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.
The impact is so bad that travel agents are considering putting staff on unpaid leave as they try to weather the storm, he warned.
Images of increasingly violent clashes between masked protesters and police firing tear gas in the city’s streets have made global headlines, with protesters announcing new demonstrations throughout August as they press their demands.
A Hong Kong Tourism Board spokesperson said the number of forward bookings in August and September has “dropped significantly,” suggesting the economic toll will linger throughout the summer season.
A string of travel warnings issued by countries including the United States, Australia and Japan is likely to compound the industry’s woes.


Lebanon’s new finance minister to meet IMF official

Lebanon’s new Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni met with IMF Alternative Executive Director Sami Geadah in Beirut on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 26 January 2020

Lebanon’s new finance minister to meet IMF official

  • Beirut could be forced to increase VAT and cut welfare if aided by the IMF

BEIRUT: The new finance minister of debt-saddled Lebanon said he would meet with a senior official from the International Monetary Fund on Saturday for a “courtesy visit” and not bailout talks. Ghazi Wazni’s meeting with IMF Alternative Executive Director Sami Geadah comes as Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
It follows a meeting on Friday between Wazni and a delegation from the World Bank led by its regional director Saroj Kumar Jha.
“It is a courtesy visit which aims to get to know the IMF team,” Wazni said.
“The discussions will not focus on an economic rescue plan, which is being prepared (separately) inside government,” he added.
Wazni assumed the post of finance minister on Tuesday with the formation of a long-awaited cabinet that faces huge economic and political challenges.
The previous government resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into a protest movement demanding the removal of politicians deemed incompetent and corrupt.
Wazni comes into the post at a time when the plummeting Lebanon pound has lost over one-third of its value against the dollar in the parallel market.
Lebanese banks are tightening restrictions on dollar transactions amid a liquidity crunch.

BACKGROUND

Lebanon’s previous government resigned on Oct. 29, two weeks into a nationwide protest movement demanding the removal of politicians deemed incompetent and corrupt.

The economic downturn has raised questions over whether Lebanon will turn to the IMF for a bailout — an option the government has yet to comment on but which some officials regard as inevitable.
Last month, former prime minister Saad Hariri discussed a possible economic rescue plan with the heads of the IMF and the World Bank, further fueling speculation of a bailout.
If Lebanon does turn to the IMF it may have to increase its value-added tax, slash subsidies to the state-owned electricity company, tackle rampant corruption and enact a raft of structural reforms, according to previous IMF recommendations.