If five months ago, the narrative of streets looking empty, students being out of schools, businesses being termed as essentials and non-essentials to determine whether they should be allowed to operate or not, or even getting a plate of your favourite food from your favourite restaurant being newsworthy would have been brought upfront, it would have been a laughable matter.
But, that is the power of a crisis.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the unthinkable has happened. Businesses across the world are shut down and as a result, economies across the world are witnessing crippling effects. Today, noting that the first coronavirus case was reported in early December 2019 in China, a long time seems to have passed. What is clear is that prohibiting businesses to resume their operations for ‘flattening the curve’ is an extremely risky strategy. Given this, many countries have started exiting lockdown and continuing their businesses despite coronavirus cases with Hong Kong being one of such economies.
Some 1,000 restaurants and food establishments throughout the city of Hong Kong were shut down, and a ban on foreign visitors was brought into action with the onset of COVID-19. Thus, the economy of Hong Kong contracted by 8.9 percent in the first quarter of FY 2020, wherein a 10.2 percent drop in private consumption has been attributed as a major driver of the contraction.[i] Despite this, some businesses have found their way of operation in these difficult times.
A small community of organic vegetable farmers in Hong King has experienced a business boom amidst the pandemic. At a time when COVID-19 had started to cause logistical problems in the supply chain from the nearby Chinese mainland to Hong Kong, the costs of imported produce increased by 30 percent to 50 percent. Because of this, the locals tried to source local vegetables.[ii] Amidst this, Mapopo Community Farm, which has been running for the past ten years, witnessed their profits double after they reopened their sales since February. One of the farmers noted that the coronavirus crisis has underscored the need for Hong Kong to become more self-sufficient when it comes to food as the city currently imports more than 90 percent of its vegetables from mainland China.[iii]
Apart from this, the hotel industry in Hong Kong is also in a survival mode. Although they might not witness a V-shaped recovery in operating performance, some signs of demand in the short-term have been coming up considering several overseas students might be returning and might need short-term accommodation for self-quarantine. Some hotels offering discounts on the short-stay plans are even enjoying full bookings. Such steps are not permanent solutions, but in a way ensure that visitors keep coming.[iv] Contactless technologies and hygiene regulations have been given the utmost importance.
If such businesses boom, it is expected to not only work positively for the economy but also the community. For instance, hotels like the Tai O Heritage Hotel are operating as a non-profit social enterprise. The proceeds and revenues of the hotel are contributed fully to hotel maintenance, community engagement, and commitment to Tai O village, such that its heritage, conservation, tourism, and green living are promoted. With this, the hotel has witnessed a change in the demographics of people making bookings. While 75 percent of the guests used to be local in any typical year, since February 2020, the hotel has received 92 – 95 percent local bookings. [v]
Similarly, Hong Kong’s urban farmers, Rooftop Republic have faced cancellation or postponement of most of their events since the outbreak of the virus. However, to stay afloat in the market, they have resumed their operations by experimenting with ‘Online Planting’ classes. They have been trying to impart positive and uplifting news in their mass communications while also ensuring additional health measures in their public events.[vi]
On the other hand, a plant-based natural beauty and skincare brand named ZeroYet100 has adopted a different strategy by launching hand sanitizers, as well as by rethinking old ways of doing business by minimizing on the packaging and being more mindful about business operation issues from the past.
Learning is Critical
Certainly, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the approaches of economies such as Hong Kong where businesses have been rethinking their ways of operating and where the government has been able to fairly contain the contagion despite an economic hit. Findings that emerge from countries like these are a learning opportunity especially to identify and understand what does not work.
At the same time, it is notable to the contrast between these approaches with countries of similar socioeconomic profiles for Nepal to accelerate its efforts. Only then can resources be allocated effectively.
As Stanford economist Paul Romer put it, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”. This is the time for all three tiers of the Nepali government to work proactively to create an enabling environment for businesses to resume their operations. In addition, it is imperative that businesses show both citizenship (an interest in societal well-being) and resourcefulness (developing creative responses to emerging challenges with scarce resources) to boost the nation’s economy.
[i] Brunnersum, Melissa. “Coronavirus: Hong Kong reopening threatens to renew mass protests”, DW, 13 May 2020. Retrieved from- https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-hong-kong-reopening-threatens-to-renew-mass-protests/a-53423607
[ii] Chow, Vivienne. “In Hong Kong, buying locally-grown vegetables is about more than just fighting coronavirus”, WQuartz, 2 April 2020. Retrieved from: https://qz.com/1819651/local-farms-in-hong-kong-are-thriving-because-of-coronavirus/
[iii] Ibid 
[iv] Wong. Martin. “Hong Kong hoteliers can forget V-shaped recovery as coronavirus brings new norm to industry”, South China Morning Post, 31 March 2020. Retrieved from- https://www.scmp.com/business/article/3077515/hong-kong-hoteliers-can-forget-about-v-shaped-recovery-coronavirus-brings
[v] Marcus, Lilit. “The Hong Kong hotel weathering the coronavirus storm”, CNN, 6 April 2020. Retrieved from- https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/tai-o-hotel-hong-kong-intl-hnk/index.html
[vi] Ho, Sally. “9 Hong Kong Businesses Share How They Are Coping With Coronavirus”, Green Queen, 2 April 2020. Retrieved from- https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/9-hong-kong-businesses-share-how-they-are-coping-with-coronavirus/
Thumbnail picture source: https://news.rthk.hk/rthk/en/component/k2/1511264-20200227.htm?spTabChangeable=0