On June 24, the Hong Kong government announced three anti-price gouging measures regarding Designated Quarantine Hotels (DQHs) after authorities “noticed the scalping of guest rooms in DQHs in recent days”. This development comes after the list of the eighth cycle of Designated Quarantine Hotels (DQHs) – which will run from August 1 till October 31, 2022 – was released last week.

Concerns raised on social media over travel agents’ practices

Within hours after the eighth-cycle list was announced on June 16, Hong Kong social media was abuzz with posts about how rooms from several hotels were already sold out for August. Netizens have alleged that quarantine hotel rooms were difficult to book as there are no or very few rooms available for the peak travel period of August, especially the larger room sizes or adjoining rooms favoured by families.

Their frustrations were echoed by lawmaker Doreen Kong, who posted on Facebook about the difficulties she faced when she could not book a room for her son to stay at during his mandatory minimum seven-day isolation period after he arrived in the city from overseas. Numerous travellers voiced their frustrations on social media against travel agents who allegedly make bulk bookings for rooms and then sell them to returning residents at higher prices. This is something that Kong also implied in her post, when she refers to the fact that there is a loose of balance between supply and the demand, over the cost of the rooms (任由供求失衡,導致炒賣檢疫酒店房間).

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There are, of course, cases in which Hongkongers booked rooms at quarantine hotels earlier in the year in anticipation that long-time participants in the DQH scheme would be included in the upcoming eighth cycle. However, there are posts on social media stating that some hotels’ flexible policies about the guest details on bookings and credit cards allowed agents to reserve rooms en masse and subsequently sell them to travellers, for a higher price.

This screenshot from Taobao shows 7-day DQH room packages ranging from RMB9,800 to RMB35,000

Other netizens claimed that Mainland agents bought out rooms in bulk to sell them to travellers returning to the Mainland via Hong Kong over the summer. They shared screenshots from the Chinese online shopping platform Taobao with the search results “Hong Kong quarantine hotel”. Many of these results offered seven-day quarantine hotel packages ranging from RMB9,800 to RMB35,000 (or $11,500 to $41,000), depending on the check-in date.

Additional fees charged by agents leading to new anti-scalping measures

When the newest list was released, The HK HUB found that there was an average price increase of 26% in rooms provided by hotels that were DQH scheme from the fourth cycle to the eighth cycle.

One agency that The HK HUB reached out to stated that they could book a Superior Room at the Regal Airport Hotel for $1,050 per night (for a single occupant with three meals), when the price listed on the hotel and government websites for the same room is $950 per night.

Another agency we got in touch with said that they charge a “Quarantine Search & Management Fee” of $2,000 to search for quarantine hotels. This fee, said the agency, “will allow us to find the best suited property for your needs (maximum up to 3 offers) whilst also guaranteeing full support and management of your hotel bookings (and any flights) made by [us] in case travel disruptions complicate your return.”

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According to a government press release, the three measures that go into effect immediately are:

  1. Travel agents that partner with DHQs should not book hotel rooms without including guests’ booking details. In addition, agents must pay for rooms in full when they reserve them.
  2. All room bookings must be made under a real name and after a full advance payment. DQHs should also have a fair and transparent refund policy.
  3. Travel agents must provide itemised fees charged on receipts and make sure that the hotel room rate is the same as the rate listed on the government website.

While these measures do not rule out agents, agency fees and commissions entirely, they aim to create more transparency when it comes to booking DQHs in Hong Kong, especially since non-residents have been able to enter the city since May 1.

More quarantine hotels added to eighth cycle

The government also announced that it will add three more hotels to the eighth cycle of designated quarantine hotels, which will start accepting bookings from June 25:

  • Bay Bridge Lifestyle Retreat in Tsuen Wan
  • Mira Moon Hotel in Wan Chai
  • Prince Hotel, Hong Kong in Yau Tsim Mong

This brings the total count of rooms available to inbound travellers up to 24,000 across 65 hotels.

Header image credits: Asia Images Group via Canva

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From the Middle East to the Far East and a couple of places in between, Anjali has lived in no fewer than seven cities in Asia, and has travelled extensively in the region. She worked as a lifestyle journalist in India before coming to Hong Kong, where her favourite thing to do is island-hopping with her daughter. You can check out her musings on motherhood, courtesy her Instagram profile.

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