After multiple delays, the long-awaited Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble is due for lift off on 26 May 2021 following “the gradual stabilisation of Hong Kong's epidemic situation since mid-February and satisfactory epidemic control in Singapore all along”, said a Hong Kong government statement.
The arrangement will allow quarantine-free entry between Hong Kong and Singapore, starting with just one flight per day in each direction and passengers capped at 200 passengers on each flight for the first two weeks.
These designated flights will be stepped up to two per day from 10 June if the Covid-19 situation remains stable, with another increase by 26 June should both cities report no further outbreaks, according to a Straits Times report.
Officials said that Hong Kong would require its residents to have their second dose of the vaccine two weeks before departing, except for those under 16 years old, medically advised against taking the vaccine or using non-Hong Kong travel documents. Singapore will not require this additional precaution.
Bubble travellers departing from Hong Kong are required to download, register and use Singapore’s TraceTogether mobile application, while travellers from Singapore must use the LeaveHomeSafe app.
MICE players prepare
Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association (HKECIA) chairman Stuart Bailey, said the travel bubble relaunch is a step towards reopening international markets for exhibitions and conventions, but hopes more can be done.
"Frankly speaking, one flight per day with 200 passengers will make no serious difference in the ability to hold international trade fairs, but we have to start somewhere," he said.
“We are hopeful that this scheme will pave the way for the opening of more destinations to allow quarantine-free travel between low-risk cities for fully vaccinated and tested individuals to travel... With tourism and MICE industries on life-support for over a year, more bubbles cannot begin soon enough."
A spokesperson from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which has held 13 public exhibitions and auctions since January, told M&C Asia that the venue welcomes the bilateral travel bubble and "looks forward to welcoming attendees from Singapore to upcoming events at the HKCEC".
Hong Kong’s business hotels are also ready to welcome Singapore corporates — while maintaining stringent safety precautions.
“Our MICE team has pulled together an updated list of target clients who may be the first group of potential guests travelling on the SG-HK bubble and will have a tactical offer rolled out once the travel bubble is officially launched”, a spokesperson of Shangri-La Group (Hong Kong) told M&C Asia.
“We are also working closely with our global sales team from Singapore to see how our rates and plan could be adjusted to fit our clients’ needs."
Meanwhile, Mandarin Oriental will be cross-promoting special offers across its properties in both destinations. “We will be working closely with Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) to promote this travel bubble, along with luxury agents such as American Express as well as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines on a flight and hotel bundled offer," said Louise Wu, area director of commerce.
However, Wu added that considering Singapore travellers will need to take four Covid tests, she believes initial bookings will be predominantly essential business travellers or family visits.
Eric Poon, director of sales and marketing at The Peninsula Hong Kong, said that the hotel is already "creating new experience-driven offerings for international clientele, especially in the MICE and corporate segment”.
Ovolo Hotels Group acting COO, Marc Hediger, added: “The bubble is the first of many steps to rejuvenate Hong Kong’s travel and tourism industry, and also allow for the business sector to truly return to returning to normal."
Bookings are looking positive for Hong Kong's MICE sector. “The city has been securing a number of international and regional conferences and exhibitions and some are happening in the second half of the year, so indeed it’s encouraging news to event organisers,” said a HKTB spokesperson.
HKTB said it will continue to work with MICE and tourism stakeholders to strengthen the city's "anti-epidemic measures", which include standardised hygiene protocols for hotels, restaurants, transportation, shopping malls, and tour operators.
Still, there remains a long road ahead for recovery.
HKECIA's Bailey said: “Other obstacles which need to be overcome is the cost and accessibility of PCR testing."