Hong Kong travel: Is it safe to visit as protests escalate?


In recent days, protests in Hong Kong have become more unpredictable, increasingly violent, and spread beyond government territory, roughly two months after the protests began. Demonstrators crowded Hong Kong International Airport on Monday, prompting authorities to cancel all departing flights. There were more protests on Tuesday, with the airport suspending all check-ins in the afternoon.

Still, experts say the city is generally safe for travelers — as long as they refrain from taking action and remain vigilant.

“It’s still safe to travel there,” said Matt Bradley, regional security director for International SOS. “It’s just more confusing than before.”

The impact of Monday’s protests on travel was inevitable: All departures to Europe, Africa, Australia, the United States and other countries in Asia were canceled until early Tuesday morning local time. The airport website shows that many arriving flights have been delayed or cancelled.

Although flights had begun taking off and arriving as planned early Tuesday, by late afternoon, the disruption had returned.

How to navigate Hong Kong International Airport amid protests and flight cancellations

“All passengers are advised to leave the terminal as soon as possible,” a notice posted on the airport’s website Tuesday afternoon repeated information posted on Monday. “Affected passengers should contact their respective airlines to arrange flights.”

The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong responded to the airport’s warning on Tuesday in a demonstration alert. Protesters began leaving the airport on Monday night before returning on Tuesday afternoon.

Officials halted all remaining flights at Hong Kong airport on Aug. 12 after thousands of protesters brought the busy tourism hub to a standstill. (Video: Associated Press)

The U.S. State Department updated its travel warning for Hong Kong to Level 2 on Aug. 7, urging citizens to “exercise increased vigilance” due to the civil unrest. It warned that some demonstrations had turned confrontational and ended up in communities where there were no demonstrations. authorized.

“Since June 2019, there have been several large and small political demonstrations in different parts of Hong Kong. Most have been peaceful, but some have turned confrontational or led to violent clashes,” the advisory said. . “Protests and confrontations have spread to communities beyond those where police allow marches or rallies. These demonstrations may take place with little or no notice, but are likely to continue.”

Those traveling to the city should follow local media updates, avoid demonstrations, be careful if they find themselves near large gatherings, and keep a low profile, the bulletin said.

The Aug. 5 strike caused chaos in the city of 7.4 million, shutting down transportation systems, canceling flights and closing stores. Demonstrators clashed with police and counter-protesters, and dozens of people were arrested. The protests initially started over a now-introduced bill that would allow mainland China to extradite criminal suspects. But activists have expanded their list of grievances and demands, and observers expect demonstrations to continue.

Hong Kong strike disrupts city as leaders warn of ‘dangerous situation’

Bradley said his company expects more protests to move forward. “Our assessment is that the protests will continue until they get the results they want,” he said.

Brendan O’Reilly, Asia intelligence analyst at global risk management firm WorldAware, said that although at least one South Korean national who was demonstrating has been arrested, tourists are not usually involved in the event.

He said many demonstrations were announced in advance by mainstream activist groups, but smaller, more violent protests had also emerged, especially around police stations. These are especially dangerous for travelers because they may not be immediately recognized as protests, and tourists may not know to leave, Bradley said.

“Avoid all the protests when you see them; try to know them in advance so you can avoid going there,” Bradley said. “If you go there, they are where you are and you have to get out of there.”

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Hong Kong-based U.S. journalist Kate Springer said in an email that while major tourist attractions such as Victoria Peak or the Big Buddha were “relatively unscathed,” protests also took place in other tourist areas such as Central, Admiralty and Causeway Bay. . Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok.

“The tricky thing for travelers who may not know the city well is that protesters have a ‘whack-a-mole’ tactic of protesting in one area and then quickly moving to another,” she wrote. difficult”

Bradley urged travelers to be flexible in their plans and monitor local news sources for the best information.

Travelers can take another precaution, O’Reilly said: Avoid wearing black T-shirts, worn by those protesting the extradition bill, or white T-shirts, worn by counter-protesters.

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“In addition to avoiding protest sites, tourists may want to reassess their clothing choices to avoid getting into conflict,” he said in an email.

Laurel Chor, a Hong Kong native, freelance journalist and photographer who has been covering the protests, said in an email that she still believes the area is safe for tourists. Aside from last week’s strike, she said protests were easy to avoid – although she conceded that could change.

“If you happen to be nearby, the biggest risk is tear gas inhalation,” she wrote. She added that protesters “are actively trying to woo the international community and are actually more friendly and helpful to tourists.”

Visitor numbers from the Hong Kong Tourism Board showed a 14% year-on-year increase in tourist arrivals in the year to June, reaching nearly 35 million in the first half of the year. According to the committee, tourism activities are proceeding as usual.

“Hotels and tour operators are also monitoring the current situation and are prepared to provide the necessary assistance to minimize the impact on travelers in the event of an unexpected event,” Bill Flora, U.S. director of tourism, said in an email. “Hong Kong remains a hospitable city.”

Will China crack down on protests in Hong Kong? For Beijing, there are no good options.

Learn about the latest travel advisories from the State Department

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