Hong Kong’s best-known travel agency closes after 50 years

Industry leader expects woes to continue for remainder of 2022

Mong Kok branch of Morning Star Travel Service in Hong Kong. (Photo from South China Morning Post)

HONG KONG: One of Hong Kong’s best-known tour operators has decided to wind down its business after 50 years in business and amid a worsening outbreak of industry leader Omicron s expecting the travel sector’s woes to continue for the rest of 2022 at least.

Morning Star Travel Services said on its website on Thursday that the board had passed a resolution to voluntarily wind up the tour operator under the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Order.

He added that the first meeting of creditors would be held on February 16.

Apart from the press release on its homepage, the agency’s website was no longer accessible on Thursday.

Founded in 1972, Morning Star was one of the leading travel agencies in Hong Kong, with over 10 outlets across the city and Macao.

In addition to tour groups, ticket and hotel packages and charter tours, it has also developed cruise products and business services in recent years.

Fanny Yeung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, said she thought Morning Star’s directors’ decision had been difficult, with more resources lost the longer the company continued to operate.

“We are waiting [tourism will resume] in the last quarter of this year [at the earliest], there is still a long way to go for the tourism industry to return to normal. The outlook is not positive,” she said.

Tourism in the city has declined significantly over the past two years, with the mainland Chinese border remaining closed after talks stalled during the recent outbreak and travel with the rest of the world restricted by strict quarantine measures.

Statistics provided by the council revealed that 63 travel agencies permanently ended their services between July and December last year, with just 26 agencies opening in 2021, compared to 62 in 2020.

Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said he was saddened by the closure of Morning Star and hoped the government would give more support to the travel industry.

“The company has a 50-year history and it’s a household name to many citizens. It’s such a huge loss,” he said, adding that the government shouldn’t offer such limited financial support. during each local coronavirus epidemic.

“Even if there was no fifth wave now, the industry still couldn’t function without the border to the mainland opening up or overseas touring resuming.”

Yiu added that the industry had not been able to benefit from last year’s drop in infection rates or relaxed social distancing measures, noting that large agencies had found it particularly difficult to profit in only operating cruises and local tours.

As a leading local travel agency, Morning Star was the first company of its kind to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It was sold to a private investor in 2012 and then bought by listed Chinese developer Fantasia Holdings three years later.

An interim report by Fantasia from 2020 showed that Morning Star was sold to a third party engaged in the travel industry for 50.4 million yuan ($7.9 million) in March of the same year.

But as the pandemic emerged, the agency began to struggle financially, with Danish travel company VOS Aps filing a claim in the High Court as a creditor to wind up the business.

Morning Star also received two relief payments of HK$3.57 million ($458,000) from the government for its 147 employees under the city’s Covid-19 business support program in 2020.

Other tour operators have also suffered during the pandemic, with Hong Thai Travel Services receiving a similar liquidation plea after failing to settle a payment from two years ago.

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