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.

Fully inoculated arrivals must undergo self-funded quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 7 to 21 days, as of August 9.

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.

On the other hand, Hong Kong’s safety measures have kept infection rates low, with just 12,020 total cases and 212 deaths in the city of 7.5 million as of August 10.

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.

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.

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Following the end of the government’s employment support scheme for the tourism industry last November, industry players have rallied together to create short-term job and business opportunities for travel agents and practitioners.

A proposal under the Job Creation Scheme put forth by 18 travel industry-related associations and unions, including the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong (TIC) and the Hong Kong Hotels Association (HKHA), was accepted by the government recently.

Tour operators selling products at the inaugural travel fair organised by Hong Kong Japanese Operator Association

Last November, the government earmarked HK$6 billion (US$771.4 million) under the Anti-epidemic Fund to take forward the Job Creation Scheme, which is expected ​to create 30,000 temporary jobs in the public and private sectors over the next two years.

Under the scheme, tourism workers will be offered some 2,000 temporary jobs to assist in administrative tasks across 24 community vaccination centres (CVCs). The job openings target travel agents, hotel staff, tour guides/escorts, coach drivers and back office staff.

Currently, the government deploys manpower from various departments to run and manage operations at the CVCs, and the administrative support by the travel trade will allow for more flexible deployment of its manpower.

In order to conduct recruitments, a new company, the Tourism Industry CVC Administration Services, has been set up. The company will be granted a HK$2 million subsidy by the government.

According to convenor Michael Wu, the hiring process for the job openings started yesterday (April 7), and is expected to draw 7,000-8,000 applications.

So far, three job categories are waiting to be filled, namely, centre supervisors (46 vacancies with HK$40,000 monthly salary), assistant centre supervisors (92 vacancies with HK$30,000 monthly salary), and registration officers (1,600 vacancies with HK$1,300 daily salary). All appointees will undergo a short period of training and familiarisation before officially commencing work on May 1.

Each employment contract has a five-month term, with an estimated cost of HK$150 million for all 2,000 jobs combined.

Meanwhile, the first-ever mini travel mart to support the embattled tourism industry has been launched today (April 8) at a 650m2 event site in Kwun Tong. Jointly organised by Hong Kong Japanese Operator Association (HKJOA) and Inspire Hub, the four-day marketplace provides free booths for agents (15 booths) and practitioners (20 booths) to sell products.

HKJOA spokesman, Gianna Hsu, told TTG Asia the aim of the travel mart is to provide an avenue for the travel trade to earn some income during this challenging period. “As many practitioners have lost their jobs, we hope to drive more business opportunities for them. This mini-mart attracted more than 110 applications from the industry, and eventually, only 35 applicants were picked through a live lucky draw. It is estimated to draw around 1,000 visitors per day.”

Products on sale at the travel mart are mostly gourmet food sourced via the operator’s overseas networks. For instance, China Travel Service is showcasing a slew of premium tea brands and Japanese enzyme, while independent practitioners are selling everything from healthy dried fruit