High tension, high stakes in Hong Kong

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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‘Fire and Fury in City’s Heart’; ‘Anti-riot vehicles with water cannons to hit streets’; ‘Protests set to hit the economy hard, finance chief warns’.

The headlines don’t come from a regular world trouble spot where the people are raging against the actions of some despot they wish to see toppled. They are from today’s South China Morning Post and refer to the escalating unrest and increasing violence that has beset a city long considered one of the safest and calmest in the world.

My Moodie Davitt Report Interim Bureau in Tung Chung, a ten-minute cab ride from the airport, is far away from the weekend’s clashes on Hong Kong Island. But even Hong Kong International temporarily became centre stage in the protests last week when airport staff and flight attendants joined demonstrators in staging a sit-in protest involving some 1,000 people in an 11-hour vigil.

It’s hard to see when or how this will all end but some form of intervention by an increasingly agitated Beijing central government is now being widely touted. It’s not for us to comment on the politics but we must note the worrying implications for travel retail in Hong Kong (and perhaps Macau) if the situation deteriorates sharply.

Tourist arrivals to Hong Kong grew 15% year-on-year in the first five months of 2019 but slowed to 8.5% in June. The July numbers will be closely watched. Certainly, Hong Kong International Airport, usually such a seething mass of humanity, was unusually quiet when I arrived yesterday.

This is the first of several Interim Bureaux in Asia I will be opening over the next three weeks. Lots of interesting meetings this week and then it’s on to Phuket and Chiang Mai for what might not quite rank as a holiday (I run ‘the website that never sleeps’ after all) but at least will offer the restorative wonder of sea, sun and, quite possibly, the odd Singha.

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