Nearing the end of my year of the RAT

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A  bit like the old adage, three strikes and you’re out, except for me it’s seven RATS and you’re out. Having just completed seven rapid antigen tests (RATs) following my return from Doha, I am indeed setting out once more on my travels, this time to Dubai and Bahrain followed by a fleeting visit to the UK to meet my family and team.

On return to Hong Kong, it will be another seven RATS but this time complemented by just two PCR tests (one on arrival at the airport) instead of the former four. Good. In my own personal year of the RAT, I’ve lost count of the number of swabs I have had, though the current protocol sure beats the former need to have them done while confined to a quarantine hotel.

This evening I’ll head to what I know will be a very different looking Hong Kong International Airport than the one I saw in late October en route to The Trinity Forum. I can’t wait to see the now open Louis Vuitton and Chanel duplexes, the reopened Cartier boutique and many other stores in the luxury zone and beyond.

I was one of the 755,000 passengers served by Hong Kong International Airport in October, a surge of +447.9% over the same period last year. That’s an encouraging number although still just circa 13% of pre-pandemic levels. The rise was driven by increases in Hong Kong resident and visitor traffic due to the relaxation of local quarantine measures.

Hong Kong’s comeback has a long, long way to go but the signs are increasingly positive. Cathay Pacific Airways is to operate 70% of its pre-pandemic passenger flight capacity by the end of 2023 with a full recovery in 2024. Events are returning too, notably the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament, which was played out at Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay earlier this month and was jam-packed with thousands of fans. The only COVID-19 constraint was they had to scan the LeaveHomeSafe Vaccine Pass and present a negative RAT result before entry. Yes, spectators were meant to don masks when not eating and drinking, which as many of them never stopped drinking meant they did not have to wear them at all.

With Beijing having also slashed its COVID-19 requirements for inbound travellers on 11 November – hotel quarantine down from seven days to five, among other measures – the signs are increasingly clear that the Mainland authorities are moving towards a phased return to near normality. It won’t be as fast as travel industry stakeholders would like but is welcome nonetheless.

On 16 November, Hainan Airlines restarted a once weekly round-trip Haikou-Hong Kong flight – the first non-Mainland flight since very early in the pandemic. That is particularly good news for me and many other Hong Kong-based travel retail executives. Hainan, so close on the map, has seemed like a virtual world to many of us over the past two and a half years, brought to life only by the constant images on our website of the many store openings, brand launches and activations that have made the island the epicentre of the travel retail industry.

The COVID-19 battle in China is far from over, as evidenced by this story in state-owned media Global Times today. But the approach to combating it has now changed markedly. Click on the image to read the full story.

No need to guess then where my first travel destination of 2023 will be. Sure I will add extensively to my impressive RAT, PCR and hotel quarantine tally but it will be well worth it. Before that though, Dubai, Bahrain, London and (you’ll need a few good Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs to pronounce this correctly) Ystradgynlais beckon. Where there won’t be a RAT in sight.