Of Irish jigs, Triple Salchows and an end to Hong Kong hotel quarantine

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

It’s just an invitation across the nationA chance for folks to meetThere’ll be laughing, singing and music swingingDancing in the street
– ‘Dancing in the Streets’, Martha & The Vandellas

If any of my neighbours heard me doing my best impersonation of an Irish jig at 15.29 yesterday afternoon, I doubt any of them would have complained about the noise. For they were probably breaking into some form of dance themselves.

That is the precise time news broke (via South China Morning Post) that the Hong Kong government is to end mandatory COVID quarantine for arrivals, replacing it with a new ‘0+3’ plan, effective Monday.

For Hong Kong residents such as me, that big fat lovable 0 is the number we had been waiting for. It means zero, zilch, nought, nada days being confined to a hotel room with meals in cardboard boxes being left outside your door and periodic visits from hazmat suit-wearing strangers armed and dangerous with swabs.

As for the ‘3’, well technically it does spell ‘home medical surveillance’ for three days but you can still venture out, just not to bars or restaurants. I – and I suggest every single Hong Kong resident who plans to travel in the next year – will gladly take that.

And boy, do they want to travel. Within minutes of Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu’s announcement, home carrier Cathay Pacific’s website had crashed, unable to cope with the explosion of demand following such a protracted period when there was very little at all.  Like a freed hostage, starved and emaciated, gorging himself too soon on food, the system couldn’t cope. Even 15 hours later, as you can see below, it’s still struggling. How’s that for an indicator of pent-up demand?

 

On a personal and professional level I’m as pleased as punch. Hong Kong is just about the best place in the world for me to do my job but only if it’s open. Staying on the road for long periods to avoid the expense and hassle of quarantine (which at various times has been 7, 14 and even 21 days – heck, the Count of Monte Cristo wasn’t in for that long) or simply accepting one’s fate and doing your time repeatedly like a recidivist criminal was not a palatable choice.

Now I can go to TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes (2-6 October) and The Trinity Forum  in Singapore (1-2 November) without a couple of expensive gigs at the Hotel Quarantine-ya. I can dash home to see my family in the UK or even make a long awaited trip to my homeland of New Zealand.

The relief – joy too but mainly relief – here in Hong Kong is palpable. My WhatsApp and WeChat were bursting like the Cathay Airways booking system yesterday with ‘Have you heard?’ notes from friends in the business.

I am particularly happy for those in the travel retail world whose jobs have been so badly disrupted over the past two years. I have huge admiration for the commercial team at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) led by Executive Director Commercial Cissy Chan and General Manager Retail Portfolio Alby Tsang who have quietly gone about preparing this great airport for the day when it would swing back into something approaching full action. At times the wait must have seemed interminable.

Barren scenes like this will soon be a thing of the past at Hong Kong International Airport {Photo: Martin Moodie, 20 August 2022}

Things have improved markedly over recent weeks with passenger traffic up +116.3% in August over the same month last year. That’s great, you say. But consider the baseline. August 2021 saw just 220,00 passengers through the airport, less than 7,100 a day. Let me take you back to August 2019. Remember what are already fondly remembered as the ‘pre-pandemic days’? Six million people travelled through HKIA that month. That’s 193,548 passengers a day. Do the math, HKIA is still only up to 7.99% of those halcyon days when that rotten word COVID hadn’t been heard of.

So bravo Cissy, Alby and colleagues. Alby told me yesterday, “We may be one of the last airports to recover, but we are confident that we will come back stronger than ever!” You can almost feel the euphoria in that exclamation mark, can’t you? All the HKIA team, commercial and operational, deserve all the good fortune that lies ahead and I can’t wait to report it.

We still await the normalisation of Chinese passenger traffic, of course, due to constraints on the Mainland. But that too will come. The end of the tunnel is nearer, the light brighter and no, to reference TFWA President Erik Juul Mortensen’s oft-quoted, delightfully wry saying, this time it’s not a train coming.

Footnote: Another benefit of the scrapping of hotel quarantine is that I will be able to retire as undefeated trampolining champion of the (very) Modern Quarantine Pentathlon. Eat your heart out Ivan Litvinovich of Belarus, who held his nerve to pull off an outstanding routine of multiple somersaults and spins, soaring 10 metres into the air, to claim his country’s first medal at Tokyo 2020.

Well let me tell you Ivan Litvinovich of Belarus that – admittedly assisted by a King-size+ bed, a very springy mattress and a couple of glasses of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – I too held my nerve to record a personal best with a gold medal jump that saw me end up in room 649 instead of the 549 to which I had been assigned.

Who says Kiwis can’t fly? This dramatic photo captured the moment I entered sporting immortality (and the hotel room above)

My feat (you can see both of them in the photo) was nicely recognised by Ian Kay, Operations Director at Wand Technology in Israel, a company which uses technology to help airlines, airports and travel retailers to grow ancillary revenues. Like many people, I’ve got to know Ian through the wonderful reach of LinkedIn during the crisis and he’s one of the warmest and wittiest people I know.

Ian kindly reached out on that very platform to congratulate me on The Moodie Davitt Report’s 20th anniversary but then reminded me of my real achievement in life, the gold medal jump. I will let Ian’s post below do the talking and simply offer this riposte.

What’s a matter you? (Hey!)
Gotta no respect? (Hey!)
Whadda you t’ink you do? (Hey!)
Why you look-a so sad? (Hey!)
It’s-a not so bad, (Hey!)
It’s-a nice-a place
Ah, SHADDAP YOU FACE!

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