Asia Minute: When Tourism Collides with Politics

Oct 28, 2019

Hawaii tourism figures will soon be out for the month of September. So far this year, visitors have been increasing from the United States and dropping from the Asia Pacific. Part of that trend relates to slowing economies overseas. But within Asia, other tourism figures are being hit by political developments.

Hong Kong is not a very popular spot for visitors these days. In August, the number of tourists dropped by nearly 40% compared to a year earlier. Last week the government said that as protests have continued, that trend has accelerated, so by mid-October, visitor arrivals were only about half the level of a year ago.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Labor and Welfare has told reporters that unemployment in the tourism sector is at a two-year high — for the food and beverage industry, at a six-year high.

Last week the government introduced a plan with nearly 13-million U.S. dollars in emergency cash help for those in the travel industry.

In Japan, a different kind of political dispute has slammed one of the country’s largest tourism markets: South Korea.

A dispute between Tokyo and Seoul rooted in wartime history now stretches into trade and security. Last month, it translated into a fall of nearly 60% in the number of visitors from South Korea to Japan compared to a year ago.

Earlier this month, Japan’s Tourism Agency Commissioner said his group sees “no clear sign” of any turnaround in South Korean visitors.

The acrimony between the countries is not playing out in the same way in the other direction.

South Korea’s government says Japanese travelers to South Korea actually rose slightly last month — up about 1.5%.