Travelers pass through a crowd of protesters at the Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1 arrival hall on July 26. (Photo: GT)
Hong Kong's air traffic witnessed the sharpest monthly slide in a decade in October, with a drop of 13 percent in passengers at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) as ongoing unrest continued to batter the city's economy.
Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) said that the decline was largely attributable to the weakened visitor traffic, most notably the significant decrease in the number of passengers travelling to and from the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asia.
According to figures released by AAHK on Sunday, HKIA handled only 5.4 million passengers in October, down 13 percent from a year earlier. Aircraft movements at HKIA in October dropped 6.1 percent to 34,300. Cargo transport witnessed a 5.5 percent year-on-year decline to 428,000 tons.
The numbers are the latest evidence that Hong Kong's riots are scaring away visitors, and this trend could lead to long-term damage to the city's economy if things further escalate, Liang Haiming, a Hong Kong-based economist, told the Global Times on Sunday.
"The impact is most directly felt by the tourism and retail business," Liang said. "People are scared by the violence on the streets. As fewer visitors come, demand sharply decreases and companies that runs into trouble put their staff on unpaid leave."
Concerns over safety in Hong Kong rose after an elderly man was killed by a flying brick during a clash on the street. Also, last week a video went viral on social media of a man being set on fire by rioters after arguing with them.
The safety concerns are cutting companies' profitability and affecting their decisions on their regional businesses. In August, Australia's national airline Qantas became the first foreign airline to downsize on the Hong Kong route, cutting capacity by 7 percent.
On Wednesday, the Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific lowered its profit forecast for the second half of 2019, saying the company's short-term outlook remained "challenging and uncertain".
The downsizing reflects much larger issues in the Hong Kong economy and it is creating a vicious circle in the business environment, Tian Yun, vice director of the Beijing Economic Operation Association, told the Global Times.
"The raging violence on the streets is not just a challenge" to visitors' safety which causes a decrease in the number of visitors, Tian said. "It reflects falling public confidence in the business environment as a whole, and that can have a long-term effect that's hard to fix."