THE Tourism Industry is a major driver of Hong Kong's economy that alone keeps several hundred thousand people employed.

But the overall number of tourists arriving in the semiautonomous territory has plummeted.

Arrivals at Hong Kong's international airport in August fell nearly 40 percent from a year earlier, even before the violence at protests escalated.

The fall has been especially steep among mainlanders, who made up more than three-quarters of the 65 million people arriving in the city last year. the flow of visitors from mainland China nose-dived 55 percent during Golden Week.

The numbers are stark. Hotel occupancy rates are roughly 60 percent, down from 91 percent earlier this year. Retail sales dipped by 23 percent in August, the steepest decline on record.

Many economists believe the city's economy is slipping into recession.

VISITORS from mainland have been staying away from since protests began.

It was the second day of National Day Golden Week, usually one of Hing Kong's busiest shopping periods and Matthew Tam and his co-workers at a jewelry store were surrounded by display cases of luxury watches with nary a customer in sight.

Sales at the store, in the usually teeming shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui, have plummeted 90 percent in recent months, thanks in large parts to the evaporation of tourists from mainland China who have been staying away since anti-government protests began in June.

''It's quite worrying,'' said Mr. Tam, 56, who relies almost entirely on commissions for his income. ''I don't know how much longer i can endure.''

Hoteliers, salesclerks, restaurateurs and tour guides across Hong Kong have been racked by similar fears as footage of of tear gas-shrouded clashes between the police officers and furious protesters is broadcast around the world, scaring off potential visitors.

During the Golden Week holiday, which started on Oct 1 and celebrated the founding of the People's Republic Of China, lines for rides at Hong Kong Disneyland were refreshingly short. Malls normally thronged with shoppers were closed for several days.

And some of the city's priciest restaurants, rattled by empty tables, were offering deep discounts.

With the city's Beijing-backed leadership refusing to concede to the protesters demands, which include free elections and an independent investigation into allegations of police misconduct, an unmistakable sense of alarm is spreading among both small-business owners and corporate executives who see no way out of the impasse.

''People are hunkering down, but it's really starting to hurt, and the longer this goes on, the gloomier the picture starts to feel,'' said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hing Kong, who has lived in the city for nearly two decades.

The pall thickened after the Hong Kong leadership invoked emergency powers to ban the wearing of face-masks during street rallies a move that prompted fresh unrest and fury among those already angered by a slow erosion of civil liberties.

The government has avoided harsher measures by now, but the prospect of restrictions like a curfew remains widely discussed.

The World Students Society thanks author Andrew Jacobs.


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