Sundays in summer are usually the busiest time of year for Hong Kong Dolphin Watch, which has been taking visitors on ecological tours since 1995.
These days, however, no more than 10 or 20 tourists sign up on a Sunday, fewer than during the winter low season.
“A month ago, we thought we were on the edge of closing,” said Janet Walker, the company’s senior tour coordinator.
Eco-tourism, like the rest of Hong Kong’s tourism sector, has taken a beating as visitor arrivals have plummeted because of increasingly violent anti-government protests now in their fifth month.
Dolphin Watch says its business has nosedived by more than 60 per cent, and it has been operating at a loss since June, when the protests began.
The company raises awareness about the plight of Chinese white dolphins – also known as pink dolphins – an endangered variety of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.
Only 32 pink dolphins were spotted in Hong Kong waters in 2018, down from 47 the year before, according to the latest report by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. There were 188 in 2003.
The drop in visitor arrivals in August was the biggest year-on-year monthly decline for Hong Kong since 2003, when an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) left 299 people in the city dead.
There were 3.59 million visitors in August this year, 39 per cent down from 5.89 million around the same time last year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Some 40 jurisdictions worldwide have issued travel alerts for those visiting Hong Kong.
Walker said eco-tourism has struggled in general, given Hong Kong’s reputation as a shopping and food paradise.
She added: “With the downturn at the moment, I think everyone in tourism needs to look at what we can do to bounce back. You can go shopping and dining in pretty much any big city, but who else has pink dolphins?”