Hopes are rising within Hong Kong’s embattled tourism industry that the long-awaited travel bubble between Hong Kong and Singapore signals a baby step towards tourism recovery and may pave the way forward for similar arrangements with other countries to restore travel and trade links.
First slated to launch last November, the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble (ATB) arrangement was suspended due to a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong. Both cities have set May 26 as the ATB’s new targeted start date.
Initially, both parties will start the ATB arrangement with one flight a day in each direction, capped at 200 passengers per flight for the first two weeks. The ATB flights will be operated by Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, with both airlines having released their ATB flight schedules.
Gordon Lam, assistant director of Travel Expert, an outbound travel agency, told TTG Asia that in the near-term, he expects his business to reap little benefits of the bubble, as the initial outbound departing from Hong Kong on ATB flights are likely to be VFR and business segments, and less for leisure travel. Air tickets are also limited, and quickly sell out, he noted.
Lam also highlighted the additional costs incurred by travellers due to Covid-19 safety concerns. “Apart from air tickets, our clients also look for additional and new services like arrangement for Covid-19 testing; and door-to-door car transfer services, with clean and disinfected vehicles guaranteed,” he shared.
In anticipation of the return of leisure travel, the agency has started working with hotels and tour suppliers to craft Singapore tour packages for Hong Kong travellers, Lam said.
Paul Leung, managing director of Holiday World Tours, an inbound tour operator, opined that travel agencies may reap some benefits, though minimal. “The volume of traffic between the two destinations has not been huge in the past,” he said. “Hotels would definitely benefit (from the bubble), though (travel agencies like us) may be able to tap some business arising from ground transportation.“
Still, Leung welcomed the ATB arrangement as a positive start that could pave the way for travel bubbles with more countries and regions.
This view was echoed by Ronald Wu, the executive director of Gray Line Tours of Hong Kong, another inbound tour agency. Wu expressed hopes that the ATB could signal to the world that the safe resumption of international travel is possible with proper Covid-19 precautions in place.
He said: “Once flight frequency increases, we agents could benefit from the ATB. Right now, we are eyeing tapping summer holiday bookings, if everything goes smoothly after the (Singapore-Hong Kong ATB) launch.”