Hong Kong’s glittering Victoria Harbor will be quiet on New Year’s Eve as the city has officially canceled its signature fireworks show, as well as other spectacles including a night parade along the Kowloon esplanade held since 1997, as officials seek to avoid large public gatherings in the protest-hit city.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board acknowledged that canceling the fireworks event would disappoint people, but said government and police officials agreed it was necessary for security reasons.

In previous years, the board organized the dazzling show featuring fireworks shot from barges, lasers and skyscraper lights above the harbor in synchronicity with rousing music, watched by sometimes over a million spectators along both sides of the harbor to welcome the New Year.

Fireworks in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor have traditionally been the focal point of the city’s New Year celebrations. Photo: Asia Times
A night parade has traditionally been held in Kowloon to welcome the New Year. Photo: Handout

But the city’s drawn-out unrest, rumbling for the sixth straight month, is putting the kibosh on this year’s celebrations, even though violent clashes between rioters and the police have largely been replaced by sporadic, flashmob rallies since the end of November.

Still, visitors continue to avoid the city. The latest official figures for November saw tourist arrivals plunging 56% year-on-year to 2.6 million.

Though a political solution to assuage people’s angst triggered by a now-pulled China extradition bill is still lacking, the Hong Kong government has been attempting to repair the city’s damaged image, assuring visitors that the city remains safe.

The tourism board also announced on Monday a new citywide lucky draw sponsored by major airlines and retailers, with more than 20,000 prizes, cash coupons and gadgets up for grabs.

All Hong Kong residents and visitors to the city can log on to a dedicated website, www.hknycd.com, between 6 pm and 11.30 pm on New Year’s Eve to register using their ID number or passport number. Ten winners of 40 roundtrip economy class tickets from Hong Kong to any overseas destination and vice versa, courtesy of Cathay Pacific, as well as a slew of the latest handsets, including iPhones, and free admission packages for Disneyland and Ocean Park plus complimentary accommodation at the amusement parks’ hotels.

In October, the government announced a HK$100 million (US$12.84 million) plan to give travel agencies HK$120 for each overnight visitor they attract to the city, and HK$100 for each customer who books a trip outside the city with them. Firms can get up to HK$60,000 from this scheme, which runs until the end of March.

A less dazzling light and laser show will replace the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Handout

Meanwhile, a live broadcast of a choreographed music and light display along Victoria Harbor will be available on Facebook, YouTube, and the city’s free-to-air terrestrial channels and other platforms on New Year’s Eve, as the government encourages locals and visitors to stay indoors and watch TV to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

Police officers deployed in the streets will check the identity of pedestrians and even cordon off the harborfront to ensure peace and order.

This year’s arrangement, which some say amounts to a curfew-like ban, stems from the concern that protest slogans and police sirens could drown out the cheers when the clock strikes midnight if protests break out in hotspots including the government headquarters, Beijing’s liaison office as well as major commercial precincts.

A mass march will take place after the first sunrise of 2020 between Victoria Park and Central on Hong Kong Island to further pressure the authorities to meet the demands of the protesters – from universal suffrage to probing police brutality. The organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front, expects a turnout of at least 150,000.

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