Is it safe to visit Hong Kong?

Hugh Morris
Hong Kong attracts thousands of Britons a year - (C) 2018 Dmitry Rukhlenko ((C) 2018 Dmitry Rukhlenko (Photographer) - [None]

Holidaymakers in Hong Kong have been warned not to travel to the airport as all flights out of the territory have been cancelled for a second day after pro-democracy campaigners occupied Hong Kong International.

The disruption is the latest indication that the long-running political demonstrations in the city are impacting travellers. Airport authorities have told all passengers to leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible and contact “their respective airlines for flight arrangement”.

Virgin Atlantic and British Airways said outbound flights from London will still operate, but that those departing Hong Kong on Tuesday have been affected. BA is allowing anyone travelling Wednesday and Thursday the chance to rebook to a different date. 

The UK Foreign Office has in recent weeks warned British visitors to Hong Kong to remain vigilant and be prepared for the situation to change quickly, “with the potential for significant violence”.

“In recent weeks, several large-scale political demonstrations have taken place on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and various suburbs in the New Territories,” it said. “Clashes have taken place between police and protesters following otherwise peaceful protest activities. These have involved significant violence. Reports indicate the protests are likely to continue.”

Protests have generally been peaceful, but tempers have boiled over more and more in late July and August, with police employing tear gas and firing rubber bullets.

The FCO said it expected the protests to continue, and warned of becoming caught up in “unauthorised protests”.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been taking to the streets of Hong Kong Credit: getty

“Compared to authorised protests, unauthorised protests are met by a more rapid and more severe police response. Recent unauthorised protests have attracted heavy use of tear gas, including in built up and residential areas. You should therefore exercise vigilance in the vicinity of unauthorised protests."

It cited weekends as the most common time for protests, warning of the most violent clashes at night. It said travellers should “remain vigilant, follow the advice of local authorities and move away quickly to a safe place if there are signs of disorder”.

“Activities related to protests have spilled over into large public spaces, including shopping centres, housing estates and metro (MTR) stations, on the margins of recent protest routes. Protests can deviate from planned routes and there is the possibility of injuries among those accidentally caught up in events," it said.

"Demonstrations may lead to sections of the city being closed off and strikes by public transport workers will significantly disrupt services. In recent protests, bus routes, MTR stations, the Airport Express and the Hong Kong Macao Ferry Terminal have temporarily suspended operations without warning.”

How long will the protests continue for?

The initial protests were sparked by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but they have since evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory.

The broader ambitions of the movement has made their end harder to predict. The FCO says it expects them to continue.

Is it safe to be in the city?

Telegraph Travel’s Hong Kong expert Lee Cobaj said last month that the protesters were some of the “nicest, sweetests kids you’ll ever meet” and that she has seen tourists on the streets supportive of marches taking place. 

She pointed towards a statement released by the protest movement apologising to visitors for any disruption. “Dear travellers, please forgive us for the ‘unexpected’ Hong Kong,” it read. “You’re met with a broken, torn-apart city. You weren’t able to see the Hong Kong you’ve always wanted to see.

“Yet this image you so anticipated is exactly what we’re fighting to protect. We’re fighting to put these broken pieces back together, to preserve what makes this city our home.”

With regards to a recent escalation in violence, she said there are concerns there might be further arttacks on protesters by alleged pro-China triads. "It might be a good idea for people to avoid wearing black, lest triads confuse them with protesters and beat them up, without impunity," she said. 

The FCO says nearly 600,000 Britons visited Hong Kong last year and that most visits were trouble-free. Of safety and security, it says the level of violent crime is very low, but pick-pocketing and other street crime can occur. It adds that personal attacks, including sexual assaults, are also rare. 

Victoria Harbour is one of the city's key draws Credit: getty

Are the protests putting people off visiting?

It’s too early to say what the impact to the territory’s tourism industry might be, but preliminary reports suggest that the demonstrations are hurting Hong Kong’s image.

The commerce and economic development secretary Edward Yau has said visitor numbers to the city, which is one of the most-visited in the world, were already down and hotel occupancy rates had slumped.

“[In July] I met with the tourism sector and they expected a five to 10 per cent impact, but now the hotel sector is worried the impact would be larger,” he said. 

Hotel occupancy rates were down as much as 20 per cent year on year for June, compared to 2018, and hoteliers expected them to fall as much as 40 per cent for July, according to Reuters. Visitors from mainland China are the largest part of the Hong Kong tourism industry.

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said last month the number of tour groups from mainland China has declined to 5,641 in June from a monthly average of 7,800 in the beginning of the year.

Flight analysts ForwardKeys found that travel bookings to Hong Kong fell 5.4 per cent year on year over the month from June 16, when the mass protests began, while the Hong Kong Tourism Board said that growth slowed for June and early indicators suggest the same is true for July. 

Can I cancel my trip?

You can but it is likely to cost. The Foreign Office has not warned against travel to Hong Kong and will unlikely do so as long as the demonstrations continue as they have been, so tour operators are under no obligation to offer a refund. 

If your trip has been dramatically altered by the protests, or planned march, contact your tour operator, accommodation or insurer to discuss your options. 

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