Evidently, Hong Kong is in the middle of serious civil unrest. With anti-government protests continuing for more than 10 weeks, Hong Kong’s reputation as one of Asia’s most popular destinations is at risk. It is natural for the millions of foreign nationals who visit Hong Kong every year to question whether it is safe to travel to the city now or what risk avoidance strategies should international travelers employ to mitigate the travel risks in the city.
The simple answer is – it depends. It depends on whether you are making a leisure or business trip, whether you want to attend business meetings or want to spend time shopping, sightseeing etc. But before discussing that, we should have a brief understanding of how the protests have evolved over the last two months in terms of target selection, modus operandi and tactics, as well as the response from law enforcement agencies.
Protest Locations and Tactics
The trigger of the protests was a controversial bill which would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite fugitives wanted in mainland China and other territories. While the bill has since been scrapped, the protesters have continued their agitations expressing their dissatisfaction with the government. What started off as peaceful protests, with mass demonstrations involving up to 2 million people, have now turned increasingly violent with clashes between protesters and police personnel becoming more frequent. The protests have also spread from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, the New Territories and most recently to the Hong Kong International Airport.
Some of the major protests have taken place in the following locations:
- Causeway Bay
- Kwai Chung
- Kwai Fong
- Mong Kok
- Sham Shui Po
- Tin Shui Wai
- Tsim Sha Tsui
- Wan Chai
- Yuen Long
- The Legislative Council (LegCo) complex
- The Central Government Complex
- The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government
- Chater Garden
- Hong Kong International Airport
Protesters have often clashed with security forces near police stations and government buildings, often disrupting metro services and blocking key traffic junctions.
There has been a significant evolution in terms of tactics used by the protesters and they have shifted from mass gatherings. Rather, they are now resorting to something being described as ‘be water’ technique where a flash mob of protesters disrupt traffic at the target location and vanish before the police arrive. They then move to a new location and so on. Tens of thousands of protesters have adopted this guerilla-style protest and have increased the geographical spread of the anti-government movement very rapidly. There has been a simultaneous increase in heavy-handed police actions, who are now reported to be using indiscriminate amounts of teargas shells, rubber bullets and sponge-tipped bullets, even on some occasions on bystanders.
One of the major escalations happened when thousands of protesters gathered at the Hong Kong International Airport last weekend, eventually forcing the airport to cancel all flight operations on 12 August. The airport could be reopened on the next day only after police forcefully cleared the facility of protesters, resulting in a violent clash which left several people injured.
What about travelling to Hong Kong now?
The short answer is yes, you can continue to travel to Hong Kong. However, if you are on a leisure trip and want to recharge your batteries by relaxing, shopping, dining or doing sightseeing; unfortunately, this might not be the best time. I must stress that many parts of the city, including its tourist destinations, are business as usual. However, the latest ‘be water’ technique adopted by the protesters means that the protest has now become extremely unpredictable and it is almost impossible to predict where the next clash would break out between police and the agitators. Most leisure tourists, particularly those with families, would like to avoid witnessing police firing teargas shells on civilians or taking cover to avoid an ongoing clash or to spend time stuck in a traffic jam due to a street blockade. Leisure tourists should take all of these points into account before making a final decision about visiting Hong Kong in the coming weeks.
If you are a corporate traveller, you can stick to your schedule and continue with your business meetings / engagements by avoiding known protest locations. However, you need to remember that business establishments in Hong Kong, particularly the Western ones, are altering plans and taking steps to ensure the safety of their employees. This includes activating business continuity plans, allowing employees to work remotely, cancelling meetings and conferences, etc. So it is essential that you discuss the current situation with your Hong Kong counterparts and make your decision about visiting the city. Some conferences and other business events or meetings have already postponed or cancelled.
- Those willing to travel to Hong Kong should remain extremely aware of their surroundings, maintain increased caution and follow local developments through Sitata, local media, social media and trusted local contacts.
- Avoid all protests and gatherings as normal precautions.
- Plan trips and associated activities in advance and only after confirming that no protests are taking place in your destination.
- Try to leave an area calmly but cautiously whenever you see the slightest sign of protesters gathering. Do not wait to take photographs or make social media posts.
- Avoid wearing all black clothes, as this has been the uniform of choice of the protesters and can attract attention from the police or other pro-government organizations.
- Contact your airline before travelling to the airport and confirm the status of your flight.
As the situation remains extremely fluid, we review our advisory level on a regular basis and make updated recommendations from time to time. Use the Sitata mobile application to manage your itinerary, track your flight cancellations, and stay aware of the situation in real-time. We’ll tell you exactly what is happening and which areas to avoid as events unfold.