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‘Protest tourism’: How Hong Kong demonstrations are affecting travel

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(CNN) — With an efficient subway, multiple inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally one of the world’s easiest major cities to get around.

In the midst of this week’s Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, however, travelers to Hong Kong may find moving around slightly more difficult than usual.

Since being occupied by demonstrators, traffic has been paralyzed in key areas of the city.

Sections of major roads have been closed to vehicle traffic, though largely left open for pedestrians.

Areas affected

In Hong Kong Island’s Admiralty and Wanchai districts, Gloucester Road, Harcourt Road and Connaught Road Central have been closed to vehicle traffic, but remain open to pedestrians.

The area outside SOGO shopping mall in Causeway Bay, including Yee Wo Street and Percival Street, as well as the public square Edinburgh Place in Central, are also protest zones. Various streets in these areas have also been closed to vehicle traffic, but remain open to pedestrians.

Protests have spread across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon, with sections of Argyle Street and Nathan Road in Mong Kok occupied by protestors.

The size of the protests in these districts tends to grow at night, as more residents join after school and work.

‘Protest tourism’

Meanwhile, the protests have proven to be an attraction for some visitors.

Many tourists have taken to walking to and through protest zones independently, though tourists on private tours around protest areas have been seen.

Locals, tourists and supporters of the protestors have taken to “sightseeing” and looking for photo ops on elevated pedestrian bridges over roads near the Central Government Offices in Admiralty, where the largest protest (in terms of number of people) is taking place.

The idea of Hong Kong protests as tourist attraction might seem surreal, but it isn’t entirely new.

In 2012, Lonely Planet included Hong Kong in its list of top 10 cities to visit, recommending such exotic attractions as the Star Ferry, Chinese fortune-telling and local protest rallies.

The popular guidebook called Hong Kong “China’s most liberated city” and predicted that 2012 would be an exciting year for the city, highlighting its “rallies infused with theatrics and eruptions of song, dance and poetry” as it continued its push for greater democracy.

Safety concerns

Travel to and within protest areas is generally safe.

On Sunday evening and early Monday morning, police attempted to move crowds with force, including firing tear gas canisters. The protests have since been peaceful.

However, protestors continue to operate ad hoc supply depots at various points around and within protest zones, handing out water, towels and surgical masks to those wandering through the area as minimal protection against further potential uses of tear gas by police.

Supplies including food and umbrellas are also being given out to protestors and sometimes others entering protest areas.

Public transportation has also remained safe.

“We have been working closely with the Transport Department and The Police to ensure the safe operation of our train system,” a spokesman for the MTR metro rail network told CNN on Tuesday evening. “(We) have robust contingency plans to handle events that may occur.

“If there is a need to adjust train service or temporarily close station entrances for any reason, we will communicate this information to our passengers through different channels such as public announcement at stations, traffic news and electronic media.”

Getting around

“MTR is currently operating normal train service although Entrance L at Central Station is still temporarily closed as the building it connects to, CCB Tower, has been closed,” the MTR spokesperson told CNN. “Passengers are advised to pay attention to announcements at stations and allow more time for travel.”

Updates on MTR station operations are available in English on the company’s mobile app.

Bus and tram services between Central and Admiralty, as well as to Mong Kok, have been affected.

More than 100 bus or tram routes have been diverted or suspended.

Travelers can find the latest updates in English from websites operated by Hong Kong’s public bus companies, KMB and Citybus/First Bus.

Some shops and banks in remain closed in all of the protest areas.

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