Unveiling The New Hong Kong: Why Australian Travellers Should Embrace The City’s Divisive Transformation

Pundits say that Hong Kong's day is done and that the city is a shadow of its former self. We went to Hong Kong to find out.

Unveiling The New Hong Kong: Why Australian Travellers Should Embrace The City’s Divisive Transformation

Image: Travel & Leisure

Ten years ago, Hong Kong was a glorious place, one of the world’s great travel cities. But now, pundits say that Hong Kong’s day is done and that the city is a shadow of its former self. We went to Hong Kong to find out.

Aside from the BBQ goose, one of the joys of Hong Kong was its excellent infrastructure mixed in with a slightly edgy but contained feel. The infrastructure is still there, but there is now far less edginess and far more containment.

Around a decade ago, the mainland Chinese and SAR governments began their slicing and dicing of democratic norms, sparking a series of protests and many, many arrests. During COVID, with the city locked down and the protests quelled, the authorities enacted further changes that ripped into the city’s heart and soul.

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On the surface, the locals still go about their everyday business. They crowd the MRT at peak hour, the Causeway streets and lanes can still feel like the centre of the universe, and the food is as good as ever. But there are far fewer visitors to the city, particularly Westerners, and many expats have packed up and left.

But the downturn in visitors hasn’t seen a downturn in Hong Kong hotel prices. Moderately upscale and well-located hotels such as the JW Marriott, Grand Hyatt and Conrad happily charge over AUD500 per night. The Peninsula in Kowloon asks for around AUD800 per night, while the Four Seasons nightly rate generally exceeds AUD1,000. Kowloon’s recently refurbished Regent has a starter rate of AUD1,300 per night.

Having bucketloads of points won’t necessarily snag you a bargain bed either, with the JW Marriott asking around 65,000 Bonvoy points per night for an entry-level room and the Conrad requiring 80,000 Hilton Honours points per night. Of course, like cash room rates, point redemptions generally use dynamic pricing, and the rate on your preferred night may differ.

The rooftop at the Marriott Kowloon goes alright. Image: Marriott.

But Hong Kong was never noted for its inexpensive hotels. It was, however, noted for its excellent hotels. You came, you paid, and you lived the life… if only for a few days. That hasn’t changed. The service, the facilities, and the rooms remain top-notch.

What isn’t happening is new hotel builds. That is likely a function of stagnant tourist, convention, and corporate traveller numbers, the exit of many multinationals, and uncertainty about the territory’s future. But as a result, in a decade, as the existing hotels age and new room stock fails to become available, views on the Hong Kong hotel scene may differ.

The absence of construction sites and new skyscrapers going up — always a feature of Hong Kong — is another change returning visitors to the city may note.

Nevertheless, the city remains well-connected to Australia with Qantas and Cathay Pacific flights. Cathay flights connect Hong Kong with Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, while Qantas flies to Hong Kong from Sydney and Melbourne.

The Hong Kong skyline at night… sans cranes. Image: Vecteezy.

During February, Hong Kong Airport handled 4.2 million passengers and 27,615 flight movements. This compares to 5.89 million passengers and 32,430 flight movements in February 2019.

Cathay Pacific carried 1,801,174 passengers in February 2024 compared to 2,833,534 passengers in February 2024. Cathay noted that on February 18th this year, it operated 270 flights and flew more than 70,000 passengers — the most on a single day since the start of the pandemic. A senior Cathay Pacific executive recently told DMARGE that the airline expects to achieve 100% of its pre-pandemic passenger numbers by early 2025…

Both carriers are offering good value cash fares to Hong Kong. Searches on the Qantas portal for return flights in early June show cash fares starting at slightly less than AUD1,000 and economy cabin redemptions from 25,200 points (plus AUD143 in fees) each way, with some premium economy redemptions available from 59,000 points (plus AUD271 in fees).

Qantas celebrating its return to Hong Kong in 2023. Image: Executive Traveller

True to form, Qantas business class redemptions are far harder to find. There is some availability towards the end of the year, although not at the advertised lead-in price of 68,400 points (plus fees).

There’s an argument that one of the best ways to hold authorities to account for what’s happening in Hong Kong is to visit. The Chinese and SAR governments may be squashing discussions of the crackdown while in Hong Kong, but they cannot stop visitors from spreading the word when back home.

Is Hong Kong still worth visiting? Absolutely. Has it changed? Yes. Is it a bargain destination? No. But the food, shopping, and hotels are as good as ever. Furthermore, your trip pumps money into the local economy, keeps Hong Kong residents in jobs, and helps hold governments to account. It all adds up to a good reason to book a trip.