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Economic slump from protests hit Pinoy businesses, entertainers

18 September 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap
Image may contain: 2 people, crowd
Tourist arrivals in HK dropped by a massive 40% last month

With tourist arrivals in Hong Kong down by a massive 40% last month as a result of weeks of anti-government protests, everyone in the city is feeling the pinch – including Filipinos who are in the entertainment and tourism industries.

According to Manuela Lo, chairperson of the Hong Kong Musicians Union, many hotels have been reducing the nights when they offer live performances. Special events which have for years, been the lifeblood of many Filipino musicians, are also being cancelled all over Hong Kong on an increasingly regular basis.

But Lo says there is not much that HKMU can do to help members who are affected. “We can’t do anything at the moment, we all know business has been bad,” she says.

cover photo, Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor
Filipino musicians in HK are among the hardest hit by the slump (Photo from HKMU's Facebook page)

Hermie Santos, a booking agent for entertainers at Ocean Park, has just barely escaped getting hit by the looming downturn. His talents had already been signed up by park before visitor arrivals plummeted so they’re still assured of their contract wage.

This is despite an apparent massive drop in the number of visitors at both Ocean Park and Disneyland Hong Kong, which is perhaps even more affected because of its higher entrance fee.

A recent Filipino visitor to both amusement parks was amazed that she and her companion could get on any of the rides without having to queue, an experience that she never had in all the years that she had visited both places.

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She had the same experience at the Peak Tram, which most tourists prefer to take in going up to one of Hong Kong’s best known attractions. For the first time in so many years, the queue going in, which used to snake up to a block away, especially during the weekends, was nowhere to be seen.

It is the same story with Philippine airlines, which used to fly the seventh highest number of tourists into Hong Kong every year. Scenes from the widespread mayhem that have marred what previously were peaceful weekend protests have all but doused the desire of many Filipinos to come over for a quick respite.

Philippine Airlines, which used to fly four times daily from Hong Kong to Manila, has already cut out one flight, and is reportedly considering stopping services on one return journey. Cebu Pacific Air’s website shows it has maintained its four flights in and out of Hong Kong, but perhaps not for long.

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“It’s the same with all other airlines,” said an industry insider. “People have just stopped coming.” He says the 40% decline cited by government does not even give an accurate picture of the massive downturn in tourist arrivals as they do not include border crossings.

Things continue to look grim even with the approach of “Golden Week”, when Chinese people traditionally go traveling during the long National Day holiday, which starts Oct 1.

By this time, airlines and hotels would have been swamped with bookings from Chinese tourists many of whom prefer to do their shopping for luxury goods in Hong Kong. But none of this is happening this year because many Mainland tourists reportedly fear they could be targeted by Hong Kong protesters angry at what they perceive as China’s premature tightening of its grip on their freedoms.

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As a result, occupancy rates at hotels which last year was at a high 91% on average, have dipped considerably, prompting them to offer as much as 70% percent reduction in room charges.

The brunt of the slump is also being borne by hotel workers, 77% of whom have been asked to go on unpaid leave for at least three days, according to media reports. A survey by the Hotels, Food and Beverage Employees Association also showed 46% of the workers believe their salaries could be cut by as much as $3,000 per month.

Retailers are also feeling the brunt of the crisis, including those who cater mainly to migrant workers.
No photo description available.
Filipino retailers in WorldWide Plaza 
are hard-hit by fallout from the protests 

They include Joy Tan, a storeowner in WorldWide Plaza, who has lamented on Facebook that the protests, which often peak during the weekends when domestic workers are having their days off, have resulted in her failing to make enough to cover rent.

But the worst is yet to come. With the prospect of wage cuts looming in the horizon, many foreign domestic workers and their supporters fear they could suffer the same fate. Back in 2003, in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, the minimum salary of FDWs was cut by $400, or more than 10% of their monthly pay then. 

Now, with the new minimum wage for FDWs expected to be announced by the government by the end of the month, there is widespread fear that salaries could again be cut, or at best, frozen.

But the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, which is pressing for what it calls a living wage of $5,894 for FDWs, has been at pains trying to allay such concerns.

AMCB chair Dolores Balladares-Pelaez says, “The number of employment contracts being processed at the Consulate has remained steady despite the crisis, so it means the demand is still there, and that employers are willing to continue paying a just wage to their helpers.” 


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