Tears well up as Hongkonger Camilla Hung talks about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the restaurant she and her husband have operated for the past seven years.
“We open seven days a week, from 11am-11pm. Every day, we wait for customers but they don’t come,” says Hung.
Hung’s Chinese Restaurant is on the ground floor of Chungking Mansions, the complex of five 17-storey blocks on Nathan Road in the Kowloon district of Tsim Sha Tsui, that’s long been a magnet for tourists seeking budget accommodation and a cheap meal.
Like many of the 40 licensed restaurants in Chungking Mansions, a drop in tourists visiting the city as a result of Covid-19 – made worse by strict quarantine measures for inbound travellers – has taken a toll.
Kalai Slevi prepares a dish at Karaikudi Akka. Photo: Kylie Knott
“We are losing money daily and don’t know how long we will survive,” says Hung, adding trade in the past two years is down more than 80 per cent. “I’m in my 50s … what will I do if we close?”
A few doors down, India-born Kalai Slevi serves dishes from her home country at Karaikudi Akka. She has called Hong Kong home for the past 26 years, and took over the restaurant two years ago, just before Covid-19 started its global rampage. Business is poor, she says.
Raju Alim, manager of The Delhi Club in Chungking Mansions, says a lack of tourists is hurting business. Photo: Kylie Knott
On the third floor is The Delhi Club, an Indian restaurant that has occupied the same spot since it opened in 1987.
“Business in the past year is down 80 per cent,” says Raju Alim, manager for the past 17 years. Tourists once comprised 50 per cent of trade, he says. Many regular expat customers have also left the city.
“There was a tiny bit of help from the government,” he says, referring to last year’s HK$10,000 handout and “other small subsidies”. “But it wasn’t enough to make a difference.”
Raj runs Gorkha Palace in Chungking Mansions. Photo: Kylie Knott
Another restaurateur, Raj, who runs Gorkha Palace, and has been doing business in Chungking Mansions for 23 years, has never seen it so quiet. Bhujel Bijaya of the Sher-E-Punjab restaurant says the same: “Business is so quiet.”
“The pandemic has severely affected businesses as they depend mostly on tourists,” says Dennis Cheung, secretary of the Incorporated Owners of Chungking Mansions, the legal body that represents the 800 different owners of the building, including shops and residential units.
In the first 11 months of 2020, the city’s tourist arrivals crumbled 93.2 per cent year-on-year to 3.56 million. In 2019, a total of 55.91 million people visited Hong Kong.
Bhujel Bijaya of the Sher-E-Punjab restaurant in Chungking Mansions says the pandemic has kept tourists away. Photo: Kylie Knott
Cheung does not have official figures on how many restaurants have closed because of the pandemic, since business owners are, he says, free to transfer or restructure their businesses. But the situation is dire.
While some restaurants are catering to people in quarantine hotels, Cheung says the trade has done little to boost business.
“It doesn’t help much, since restaurants depend mostly on tourists, and those in quarantine are free to choose any restaurant for delivery.”Internet Explorer Channel Network