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Opinion | Hong Kong can no longer sit back and expect tourists to come

Opinion | Hong Kong can no longer sit back and expect tourists to come
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Without having to do much heavy lifting, Hong Kong has been welcoming tourists from all over the world for a long time, and predominantly from mainland China in recent years. As part of a decades-old mechanism, our tourism promotion has been mostly opportunistic, riding on planned events year after year. But such efforts, in the absence of a consolidated strategy, are no longer yielding the results that meet the city’s need for economic growth.

Travel patterns around the world, particularly in mainland China, have shifted. Online media exerts a good deal of influence and demand is evolving, with mature, high-spending travellers looking for more curated and immersive experiences. To catch up, Hong Kong needs a mindset shift to redefine how it approaches tourism and what success looks like. It needs a consolidated strategy to promote the city as a destination catering to specific markets.

President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to France highlighted the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France, which is being marked by the inaugural Franco-Chinese Year of Cultural Tourism. The event is a reminder of the importance of cultural connections to improve our understanding of what audiences desire and to add weight to the city’s relationships.

To bring in tourists, Hong Kong needs to benchmark itself against other leading world cities. Our value is partly based on the city’s institutional credibility and international connectivity. So, a consolidated tourism strategy needs to put Hong Kong back on the map. Government officials must look at other ways to measure tourism-generated economic activities and growth, instead of merely tracking tourist numbers.

The “profound changes” in the tourism market that Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, spoke about recently imply that Hong Kong can no longer count on its status as a magnet for mainland tourists – who used to come to stock up on luxury goods or formula milk but can now easily find such products, and experiences, they want and need online and elsewhere.

Today, as social media heralds a world seemingly without boundaries, tourists increasingly value unique experiences. Hong Kong’s line-up of mega events will help create more hype and momentum to stimulate the economy. Traveller segments, whether it is luxury, business, MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions), leisure or wellness, should be integrated into holistic annual plans for tourist events.

Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific recently announced that its flight capacity had returned to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, and is on track to reach 100 per cent early next year. Meanwhile, private jet landing capacity at Hong Kong International Airport is expected to double by 2025.

These developments offer a great opportunity for Hong Kong to target high-net-worth tourists by introducing a premium immigration passage for global VIPs. Many airports, including in Dubai and Paris, offer such fee-paying services and Hong Kong has all that is needed to join this exclusive club.

Hong Kong must be smart in the use of its top-class facilities – including the soon-to-be-opened Kai Tak Sports Park – plus its unique cultural experiences from parks and markets to hidden alleyways and its dynamic dining scene, to celebrate the city’s place in the world and its distinct character.

Community support is vital to the success of any tourism drive because local people are our best ambassadors and can make visitors feel truly welcome. Through the extensive use of online apps across tourism marketing channels, we can better define and articulate the experiences that are exceptional to Hong Kong, to highlight what makes the city unique in the eyes of our target consumers.

The consultation for “Tourism Blueprint 2.0” that ends on June 14 should be viewed as a three-way collaboration to solicit commercial know-how from the business sector and innovative ideas from the community, in particular to support the digitising of tourist experiences.

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Set in Hong Kong: Where the biggest film star is the city itself

Set in Hong Kong: Where the biggest film star is the city itself

For many of us, travel experiences are at our fingertips, thanks to the extensive use of digital devices and visual effects. Designing a holistic tourism strategy requires planning years ahead to anticipate trends and craft Hong Kong’s position, leveraging regional partnerships and opportunities for global events.

Several events last month have set the scene for global exchanges. After Xi’s visit to France, the US-China Tourism Leadership Summit was held in the city of Xian, in Shaanxi province, reuniting government and travel industry leaders from both countries to engage in talks to support the travel trade.

That same week, Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po led a delegation to Paris and San Francisco to participate in Greater Bay Area development dialogue with overseas counterparts, reinforcing Hong Kong’s “superconnector” role.

Also last month, Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung led a delegation to Paris to support Hong Kong blockbuster movie Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In for its midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival.

Such people-to-people exchanges centring on culture, sports and tourism can project a refreshed image of Hong Kong, leveraging our soft assets. There are many Hong Kong stories we need to continue to tell the world. In this way, we can create a groundswell of support that sends a strong, collective signal that Hong Kong is back and welcomes visitors.

Agnes Tsang is head of external affairs for Rosewood Hotel Group and Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group and a former senior researcher at the Central Policy Unit of the HKSAR government. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own

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