Amid the escalating unrest, many small businesses have pulled down the shutters as the economy shrinks and tourists stay away. [Photo/China Daily]

The city’s struggling retail sector sees no light at the end of the tunnel as almost six months of violent protests continued to grip the city, with the government announcing the worst slump in retail sales for a single month.

Retail sales value was down by 24.4 percent in October year-on-year, widening from a loss of 18.3 percent in September and 23 percent in August.

For the first 10 months of 2019, total retail sales have declined by 9 percent compared with the same period last year, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

In a press release issued on Monday, a government spokesman said retail sales in October marked the steepest year-on-year decline on record, even worse than figures in September 1998 during the Asian financial crisis.

Hit hard by almost six months of violent protests stemming from the extradition bill incident, the city’s tourism sector was bracing for more than 50 percent drop in visitor arrivals, with the unemployment rate in the catering sector hitting up to 6.1 percent, the city’s finance chief warned earlier on Monday.

Hailed as one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s economy, the tourism sector employed more than 250,000 people and accounted for 6.7 percent of total employment. But over the third quarter of the year, overall visitor arrivals to the city tumbled by 26 percent from a year earlier to 11.9 million, marking the sharpest year-on-year fall since the second quarter of 2003.

Visitor arrivals in October dropped by more than 40 percent.

Things will get even worse in November, as the tourism industry remains on pace to brace for over 50 percent fall of visitor arrivals, said Paul Chan Mo-Po.

Forty countries or regions have so far issued alerts or advices on traveling to Hong Kong.

“The major culprit is the ongoing waves of violent crashes,” said the financial secretary. “If we want to have the travel alerts or advisory lifted, what matters is to stop violence and restore social order.”

The hotel sector didn’t fare any better either. Average hotel room occupancy rate dropped all the way from 91 percent a year earlier to 72 percent in the third quarter of 2019.

During the August-October period, the unemployment rate in food and beverage services sector rose sharply to 6.1 percent from 4.3 percent in the second quarter, marking the highest in more than six years. Compared with the second quarter, the number of employees in the sector decreased by around 47,000.

“The winter is coming,” warned Chan.

To bail out struggling businesses, the government is studying on fresh stimulus measures, which it will reveal when the time is ripe, he said.

Also on Monday, Li Ka Shing Foundation said it will dispatch HK$900 million out of a HK$1-billion donation it had pledged earlier to applicants across catering, retail, tourism sectors as well as street peddlers and vendors in 60 days.

The remaining HK$100 million will be distributed among eligible applicants who did not receive any fund during the first and the second batches of funding via an online random draw.

The three batches of “emergency cash” saw more than 43,000 applications, with nearly 27,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises and vendors expected to benefit from them.

As many as 1,584 licensed small and medium-sized travel agencies and 4,942 licensed vendors have applied for the third batch of funding.