SINGAPORE: After returning from a holiday in Europe in June, polytechnic lecturer Patricia Tay wanted a destination closer to home for her next family getaway at the end of the year.
“We thought about Hong Kong," the 42-year-old, who has three daughters aged 4, 9 and 13, told CNA on Wednesday (Jul 24). "That was a good place for kids because it was easy to travel around, and because of the theme parks and food.”
But when Ms Tay watched clips of bloodied protesters and a pregnant woman being attacked at a train station there, she reconsidered her decision.
“When you see the footage, it gets real - the danger,” she said, expressing concerns about taking the public transport with her young children. “I’m likely to not consider Hong Kong at the year end because it doesn’t seem like it’s going away.”
Homemaker Lin Jin Ting, who has two children aged 11 and 15, said she had planned to visit Hong Kong in August, but eventually decided against it.
The 40-year-old said she and her family were in Hong Kong in 2014 when the Umbrella Movement organised a series of street protests, so she knew first-hand how chaotic the demonstrations could get.
"We decided not to proceed with booking because the situation seems unstable," she said.
These travellers are not alone.
TRAVEL AGENTS SEE SLOWER DEMAND
Travel agents in Singapore said they have seen fewer bookings and enquiries on Hong Kong since June due to the series of protests that has broken out in the city, pointing out that travellers were likely concerned for their safety.
At least 45 people were left injured after a group of masked men attacked anti-government protesters and commuters at a Hong Kong train station on Sunday night, the latest flashpoint related to the now-suspended extradition Bill.
This incident at Yuen Long comes after tens of thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Hong Kong - the seventh weekend in a row that residents have come out in anger over the controversial Bill.
Director of PR and communications at Dynasty Travel Alicia Seah said she has seen a 50 per cent fall in bookings and enquiries on Hong Kong in the past month, compared to the same period last year.
"Once (the protests) get to the shopping belt, tourists are affected," she told CNA. "Now, there is even fear of being attacked on the MTR train."
Most of the marches started in the prime shopping district of Causeway Bay and ended in the tourist and governmental district of Admiralty, blocking roads and disrupting businesses.
Ms Seah said people usually travel wanting "peace of mind", instead of worrying about whether shopping malls will be closed or the safety of taking public transport.
"Overall, the enquiries and demand for both leisure as well as meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions have been affected," she added.
CTC Travel marketing manager Kelly Toh said that compared to last year, enquiries on Hong Kong for June and July have dropped "slightly" due to the protests.
"This time round it has slowed down a bit," she added, although she noted that these have traditionally been slow months for tour enquiries.
Still, Ms Toh said the customers who do call in have asked about the situation in Hong Kong, adding that CTC staff are in touch with land operators on the ground every day to give customers the latest updates.
Ms Stella Chow, a senior manager of marketing at Hong Thai Travel, said Singapore travellers "might think twice" about going to Hong Kong now, adding that "a lot of uncertainty" remains following the train attack on Sunday.
"It is something that is very different from what originally started in June; (the situation) has evolved," she added. "The bottom line is travel is always about safety. If there’s any unrest, it does dampen the buying mood."
Ms Chow also noted that Hong Kong's appeal to Singaporeans as a food and shopping haven was not unique, with competition coming from places like Malaysia, Bangkok, Taiwan and other parts of China.
The South China Morning Post reported that visits to Hong Kong by tourists from Asia, excluding those from mainland China, dropped 3.3 per cent between Jul 1 and 5 year on year, citing latest figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).
"Hong Kong is an evergreen destination," Ms Seah said. "But in the light of these protests, people are definitely opting for other alternatives."
HONG KONG TOURISM TO TAKE A SUSTAINED HIT?
But the HKTB told CNA that it received about 56,500 visitors from Singapore in June, up 4.7 per cent compared to the same period last year.
"At present, public transportation remains normal operation and tourist activities in Hong Kong continue as usual," it said. "The HKTB will keep visitors and travel trade informed of the latest situations in Hong Kong through its communications channels."
Hong Thai Travel's Ms Chow said it was too early to tell if Hong Kong would lose its spot as one of Singaporeans' favourite destinations, adding that people had visited in June after the protests started and came back unscathed.
"We are hopeful that the impact is a short-term one," said Ms Seah of Dynasty Travel, noting that she does not expect the slow tourism demand to last beyond three months.
"We anticipate that hotels and airlines will be offering special discounts once the situation normalises to attract visitors to Hong Kong," she added.
The HKTB said it would continue to monitor the "market situation" in Singapore and work closely with trade partners in rolling out promotions for different seasonalities of the year as planned.
Nevertheless, Ms Chow said Singaporeans have continued to visit cities long after they were rocked by "very serious" protests, like the 2008 incident in Bangkok which shut down its main airport.
"I think the same would be for Hong Kong, but we really have to see how the situation progresses," she said.
For a lot of Singaporeans, CTC Travel's Ms Toh said Hong Kong remains a top destination when it comes to short getaways, pointing to its family-friendly attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland.
"We are still monitoring the situation," she added. "If things go smoothly and everything goes down, then the pick up will be quite a quick one."
Senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel Jeremiah Wong said bookings to Hong Kong in July and August have been "stable" as compared to the same period last year.
"It is an attractive fuss-free destination for Singaporean Chinese as they share commonalities in culture and customs with their Hong Kong counterparts," he said, adding that Singaporeans are a "well-travelled lot".
"We do not think that there would be any permanent negative impact on demand for travel to Hong Kong being a top-of-mind holiday destination just because of (the protests)."