Bird Flu on Hong Kong’s Tourism
Category : Hong Kong Case Studies, Hong Kong Tourism
This paper aims at evaluating the perceived effects of the bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong’s Tourism. It has been identified that the particular outbreak originates from the mainland China. In achieving the purpose of this paper, we tend to critically analyze the actual happenings and information that would be the basis for this paper’s conclusion whether there has been really a significant effect of the bird flu outbreak in the tourism of Hong Kong.
Initially, an introduction and background of the topic has been discussed for a clearer understanding of the terms being used throughout this paper. Along with the background, it is important to dig deeper to the previous situation of Hong Kong in its experience and knowledge about bird flu outbreak. By studying the region’s past experiences with outbreaks (bird flu and SARS), it would make clearer in realizing the purpose of this paper.
After the analysis of data, this paper also formulated recommendations and proposals for the tourism market in Hong Kong. Recommendations and proposals are based on the evidences gathered by the paper with a mix of practicality.
Introduction and Background
The 1997 bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong was another form of threat of influenza. Though the outbreak has been initially associated to Hong Kong, many people in the region believe that bird flu originated from the mainland China. The mainland China was at first “off” to the outbreak since authorities there claimed that there were no cases of bird flu over the border. However, stories still emerged as to the mystifying deaths of thousands of poultry deaths during the same year (around 80% of chickens in Hong Kong comes from the mainland China). Likewise, most people living in the region believed that the new kind of flu is far more deadly than its predecessors. As the outbreak has almost come to an end, it cost a reported six lives of people.
In medical terms, bird flu is a kind of influenza that normally makes people bed-ridden for a week or two when struck by the flu. As for the most common human influenzas, people then get better in due time but unluckily not with this kind of flu – the bird flu. Medical personnel admitted that most influenza are familiar and poses no fatal threat to people notwithstanding the fact that influenza has always been a killer.
According to Henig (1998), what makes the bird flu so worrisome is that the virus responsible for the Hong Kong deaths and chicken slaughter contains a unique combination of proteins on its outer shell that renders it unrecognizable to the human immune system and therefore able to wreak its destruction before the body even a previously young and healthy body. This is what makes it alarming notwithstanding the few fatality count.
To make it more alarming, when new viruses are introduced into the human population, like the bird flu virus, people with no previous exposure to the new flu strain have diminutive or even no immunity and thus are highly susceptible to the virus that can easily spread and reach from person to person (Environmental Health 2005). The outbreak was additionally quoted with its association with globalization as the disease is rapidly spreading like that of the global market.
Providentially, Hong Kong health authorities are taking the threat sincerely and critically. Authorities say they have slaughtered more than 1.3 million chickens, as well as other poultry raised near chickens, and have excluded and prohibited importation of chickens from mainland China, notwithstanding the economic and political suffering such measures indicate.
And our scientific radar still goes on to be adjusted to the existent likelihood that an enormous influenza pandemic is without a doubt a public health hazard of global consequence. The universal community is now progressively, reluctantly, learning what the scientific community has been trying to tell us for years. They said that all our medical superiority and sophistication is still comparatively unable to help in the face of the indefinable strategy of our smallest possible adversary.
Bird Flu’s Effect on Tourism
During the outbreak of the bird flu virus, not only is the people themselves were threatened and affected but also the tourism and the Hong Kong government as a whole. During the occurrence of the bird flu in December of 1997, Hong Kong also suffered monetary crisis right before the outbreak of the bird flu. Even though Hong Kong was the only country that stood out as open economy and had not suffered devaluation during October 1997, it suddenly experienced monetary predicament (Ash ed. 2000).
Moreover, the outbreak went along with a couple of other crises just after the handover of Hong Kong. Aside from the major problems associated with the opening of Hong Kong’s new airport in July 1998, there had also a series of misfortune at public hospitals. In particular, the bird flu outbreak revealed deep distrust and conflict between the administration and the politicians elected to the municipal councils (Lee 2001). Lee (2001) added that it also reflected poor departmental coordination and administrative leadership in times of crises.
The most obvious and direct department that has been affected by the outbreak was Hong Kong’s tourism. After the bird flu news has been reported widely, the tourism arrivals in Hong Kong went down to 25% year on year (Callick 1998).
The occurrence of the bird flu virus nonetheless brought about some changes in the Hong Kong government. It paved the way for the development of the region’s medical preparedness.
The Current Outbreak, is it true or not?
As of the moment of the making of this paper, there hasn’t been solid evidence as to the reality of the bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong. While other articles say that the bird flu in Hong Kong is at the peak season of its outbreak, some also claim that government is in the process of “prevention”.
Hong Kong is battered extremely by the outbreak of bird flu virus. Even though the outbreak didn’t actually originated from the region, it is fairly evident that the situation is real and true. Hong Kong can no longer deny the outbreak since it has been already manifested and proven.
It is admittedly true that the bird flu is naturally contagious and can be easily transferred from one person to another. With this reality, it can be predicted and expected that the tourism inflows would be greatly affected. However, the more depressing truth surrounding the issue is the media and the dissemination of the news.
Media has the power to expand areas of concern that oftentimes exaggerate some issues. They are so powerful that they can be the immediate source of information for people to believe and decide especially on crucial issues. Even though the last outbreak of bird flu didn’t really originate in the region but in the mainland China, it was still Hong Kong that bore the name associated to the deadly virus.
In one article, for example, it talks about the alarming effects of bird flu that is compared to the terrorist attack (Eagleton 2005 January 31). The article expresses the more distressing effects of bird flu outbreak and its embarrassing insight compared more of a terrorist attack. Some media presentations would even disregard the deeper source of the outbreak and points out to Hong Kong as the main source of the bird flu. There’s no wonder Hong Kong experienced its tourism demise.
To those people who do not believe that Hong Kong is experiencing an outbreak of bird flu, they are focusing on the prevention campaign. They have sited several threats and means of prevention. The campaign concentrated on the connection between mainland China and Hong Kong. In fact, both signed an agreement on October 2005 to increase cooperation on stopping the smuggling of uninspected food products across the border. This is in relation to the report of Taiwan the capture of a shipment of infected birds smuggled from the Chinese mainland.
Some certain articles that talk about the situation of Hong Kong cannot really deny the tremendous effect of bird flu outbreak. In a single year 2004, Hong Kong Tourism posted a tourism update that is apparently on the rise. This augmentation and development followed after the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). It was even predicted that the following year, Hong Kong Tourism would still continue to progress. However, due to the exposure of tourism into uncertain factors, like the outbreak of bird flu, the tourism sector finds it as a barrier that hampers the continuous and supposedly uninterrupted growth in tourism arrivals.
According to Hong Kong Tourism Board executive director Clara Chong, despite the encouraging development seen during the year, there still remains volatility in the market, with avian flu spreading across Asia and across the United States and Canada since February of 2004 (cited in Agence France-Presse). Chang even noted that Hong Kong’s tourism industry decline in a double-digit in terms of arrivals last year (2003) during the outbreak of SARS.
The outbreaks of SARS and bird flu are very much alike in terms of its impact to the tourism of Hong Kong. It is a practical thinking that goes upon most visitors that “why risk visiting a country if there are risks perceived?” There could be nothing much that the Hong Kong tourism board can do about this than centering their attention to the matter at hand. More than most surveyed countries, Asian nations are more confident of resolving a possible bird flu pandemic. They believe that their country are well prepared and can handle very well a probable outbreak. This can be explained in view of the fact that Hong Kong, being the place where the avian flu was discovered in 1997, exactly knows the risks brought about by bird flu. This makes Hong Kong a better and experienced region in handling an outbreak better than any other city in the world. It can be apparently said that Hong Kong is considered the best and well-prepared city to deal this next outbreak of the fatal bird flu as far as experience is concern.
Notably, in the research conducted by a recent Synovate survey, respondents in the United States, Canada, Portugal and Turkey do not have the kind of faith that Asians have in their nations. Correspondingly, less than a quarter of respondents in those countries believe that their governments are well prepared for an outbreak (cited in synovate 2006 March).
Ø Public awareness of the outbreak as a lesson in hygiene and cleanliness as one way of prevention campaign.
Ø Focus on prevention
Even though there are divisions of belief whether there is really an outbreak of bird flu in the region, one important thing that Hong Kong government can do is to focus on the prevention. As great part of Hong Kong lies in the tourism industry, the problem should be acted upon immediately for the faster recovery.
A rather effective program has been adopted by the Hong Kong government. This is the implementation of a three-tier alert system similar to the terror alert charts used in the United States. The system has three stages: “Alert”, “Serious”, and “Emergency”. It has been activated right away during the early part of 2005 when the number of avian flu cases mounted in Asia. The Hong Kong government then activated the “Alert” level (cited in Hadlock 2005 October 7).
With the activation of the “Alert” level, Hong Kong instantaneously instigated a proactive awareness campaign aimed at travelers. It was really an effective campaign that controls the growing panic in the tourism industry. As a means, pamphlets about health information were distributed to airline passengers both flying to or from the infected regions.
Passengers that usually hear safety instructions are rather heed on health messages and everything that concerns the influenza outbreak. This is especially for passengers traveling on highly-conscious countries like Indonesia. Similarly, incoming flights are also regularly checked for fever using some electronic testers.
Ø Appropriate Medicines
Antiviral drugs are of the run-outs even in the electronic shopping centers. Tamiflu and Relenza are effective and proven antiviral drugs particularly for the purpose of curing avian flu. These two kinds of antiviral drugs will be presumably given to citizens during the “Serious” or “Emergency” stage.
Antiviral drugs may not be enough for the people to feel secured considering the fact that bird flu is contagious and fast spreading which could possibly run-out the medicinal supply. In support to the medicines and antiviral drugs, quarantine also plays a great importance. This step will expectedly lower the rate of rapid spread of the virus from one person to another and from one particular place to the other.
Ø Recommendations on Tourism sector
What the Hong Kong tourism board is currently adopting can be considered as almost the best that it can do in reacting and responding to the outbreak. It would have a great impact on the maintenance and control of the tourism in the region much more that the government is primarily concern on the tourism department where a large part of Hong Kong’s revenues comes from.
Agence France-Presse 2006, Hong Kong tourism has a bright January, viewed 12 April 2006, <http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2004-02-23-hong-kong_x.htm>, Updated 2/24/2004 11:39 AM
Ash, R ed. et al 2000, Hong Kong in Transition: The Handover Years. Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Callick, R 1998, Comrades & Capitalists: Hong Kong since the Handover, University of New South Wales, Sydney, N. S. W.
Eagleton, T 2005 January 31, Diary: The Dispiriting News Is That We Are Not Going to Be Wiped out by Terrorists, but by Bird Flu. This Is a Far Less Satisfactory Prospect. Being Done in by Birds Is Just Embarrassing, New Statesman, 134(4725), p. 9.
Hadlock, C 2005 October 7, Is Hong Kong prepared if avian flu explodes? NBC News, viewed 12 April 2006, < http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9608807/>.
Henig, RM 1998 January 4, Why Hong Kong’s Bird Flu Signals a Serious Threat? The Washington Post Company.
Robin Marantz Henig, a Washington medical writer, is the author of "A Dancing Matrix: How Science Confronts Emerging Viruses" (Vintage).
Lee, J 2001, Challenges and Adjustments in Policy Principles in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, International Journal of Public Administration. 24(9), p. 977.
National Environmental Health 2005, Harmless Virus May Aid in Knocking out Deadly Bird Flu, Journal of Environmental Health, 68(5), p. 48.
Synovate, Research Reinvented, (2006 March 10). Bird Flu: Is anyone ducking the issue? viewed 12 April 2006, < http://www.synovate.com/current/news/article/2006/03/bird-flu-is-anyone-ducking-the-issue.html>.