Hong Kong (CNN) — Before the pandemic, Hongkongers were among the most well-traveled people on Earth.
In 2019, residents made 94.7 million departures, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department.
The year prior, they spent an estimated $26.5 billion — making it the world’s 11th largest tourism market in terms of spending, based on United Nations figures.
Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and mainland China made regular appearances on weekend itineraries and business routes, while Europe, North America and Australia lured Hongkongers for longer getaways.
But since the pandemic began, residents have been effectively grounded due to a mix of travel bans and one of the world’s longest quarantines.
Hope for any forthcoming travel bubbles has waxed and waned at the same time. Authorities dangled the possibility of an agreement with Singapore twice before shelving it indefinitely in May.
And while thankful to be safe, some residents feel jealous, dejected and outright angry as they watch other parts of the world reopen.
“At first, I felt lucky to be living in Hong Kong. I felt proud of how we handled the pandemic as a city and fortunate that we didn’t have serious home lockdowns. But now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction,” Liza, an employee at an international bank who was born and raised in Hong Kong, tells CNN Travel. (She did not want her last name used because of her employer’s media policies.)
“Whether to see family abroad or to take a break from our very busy, stressful lives, travel is extremely important to me. It’s the reason I work and save money — to have something to look forward to.”
An enviable safety record
When the first case emerged in the city in January 2020, the community set the tone by donning masks, working from home, heightening sanitization measures and social distancing.
In March 2020, while the US and Europe confronted devastating outbreaks, the Hong Kong government rolled out a slew of safety measures: the city shut the borders to non-residents, limited gatherings to four people, halved restaurant capacity, extended school closures and temporarily shut down clubs, karaoke lounges, bars, gyms and beauty salons.
A couple takes in the Hong Kong sunset on July 30, 2020.
Anthony Kwan/Getty Images
Since then, officials have flicked restrictions off and on in the face of second, third and fourth waves.
Some rules — like compulsory mask-wearing and group dining limits — have been widely accepted as prudent.
Others, such as a ban on birth partners in delivery rooms, surprise district-wide lockdowns, beach closures and rapidly changing travel restrictions, have drawn intense debate.