Shortage of HK hotels turns evacuees away

By Alison Leung ,Reuters

HONG KONG — People using Hong Kong as a hub for evacuation from disaster-stricken Japan may need to turn to other regional centers because of a shortage of hotel rooms. Many hotel rooms in Hong Kong have already been booked for the popular Rugby Sevens tournament from March 25 to 27 and commercial aircraft charter firm Air Charter Service has urged evacuees to divert to other cities such as Singapore and Bangkok. As an increasing number of governments from Britain to New Zealand to South Korea advised citizens to leave quake-affected northern Japan, airlines mobilized for a stream of mainly outbound traffic from one of the world’s biggest cities. “We have been evacuating people from Japan for several days,” Gavin Copus, Asia Pacific chief executive for Air Charter Service, told Reuters on Friday. “One issue facing people coming here is firstly hotel rooms and transfer flights are also very busy to other destinations.”

One of Air Charter Service’s first charters was for a high-tech manufacturing company from Japan with about 300 people, including employees and their families. “We bought them to Hong Kong in order to continue their business and they took a lot of hotel rooms,” Copus said. Four Seasons Hong Kong, a five-star hotel in the city’s business center, said it was fully booked on Friday and mostly booked for the next few days. Some serviced-apartment chains in Hong Kong said they have been inundated with bookings from European and American investment banks looking to relocate their staff from Japan for two or four weeks.

“They need the rooms rather quickly,” said Marilyn Fu, director of sales and marketing at the Onyx Hospitality Group which rents over 400 rooms and serviced apartments in Hong Kong including its Shama apartments chain.

“But we don’t have the rooms because some are asking for 20 to 30 rooms for an entire group. Because they’re staying for longer, many say they’d prefer to stay in a serviced apartment which is more homely. We’re almost fully booked now.”

Mandarin Oriental and the East hotel also said the vacancy situation would be very tight over the next few days.

Joseph Tung, executive director of Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council, said even before the Japan earthquake, room availability in Hong Kong was very tight due to the Rugby Sevens and ever-increasing numbers of visitors from China. “The hotel situation is sometimes out of our control,” Tung told Reuters.

Most people evacuated from Japan are using Hong Kong as a hub to fly on to Europe and the United States.

Air Charter Service would have six Boeing 747s stand by for the next few days with 450 seats each, Copus said.

In Seoul, an official in charge of sales at Grand Hilton said, “We are receiving a lot of enquiries from European airlines in particular, about room availability for their crews.

“It seems airlines are reluctant to have their crews stay in Japan, and are opting for South Korea due to its geographical proximity,” said the official, who declined to be named because she is not authorized to speak to the media.