Hong Kong had to look at itself, said Mrs Chow. We had to decide who we were and where we were going. In her first half year at the Tourism Board, Mrs Chow had spent her time examining changes to the tourism product, Hong Kong as a tourist destination. In general, people overseas found Hong Kong much more exciting than Hong Kong people did. The short-haul markets appreciated the shopping. Hong Kong was still a shopper's paradise - you got a good choice within a small area. Food was another major attraction. The long-haul market would not appreciate the shopping so much but were crazy about the food.
Now, people were also starting to discover Hong Kong's cultural heritage. Those in charge of our cultural facilities - particularly the Leisure and Cultural Services Bureau - were aware of the need to promote them. There were the New Territories villages, the shrines. And the Tourism Board had its Cultural Kaleidoscope campaign. Hong Kong had its unique 150 years history; it was a fusion of East and West. So it was for us to package it and tell the story.
Eco-tourism was another niche market. People were surprised to find that it was very much part of Hong Kong. 40% of the territory was country park, and much of the land outside that 40% was scenic too. There was the topographically interesting coastline: it was quite unique. People did not expect it. So the Board had introduced special interest tours, for example for seniors from Japan. They had quite liked Hong Kong. And the opening scene in the film Rush Hour 2, panning across the country park and then down into Central, was also excellent promotion.
Mr Tung had always appreciated the importance of tourism. This year the Government had made a major effort. There was the investment in Disneyland, the exhibition hall, and HK$18 billion to facilitate private sector participation in five regions: West Kowloon, the Sai Kung resort, the Kowloon cruiser terminal, Aberdeen, etc. It would need a major thrust from the private sector.
Tourism was not like other industries, just the concern of people in the trade. Tourism was the concern of the whole community. When people came to Hong Kong they wanted to interact with the entire locality. What attracted tourists to visit again was the people. The slogan, "City of Life", came from a worldwide survey; it was not something made up. Respondents quoted the energy and vibrancy of Hong Kong, its people. So everyone had a part to play in promoting tourism. And it was easy to persuade them to play their part. Hong Kong people understood the importance of tourism; they came forward with ideas. Tourism was everyone's business.
The Board tried to encourage all 18 districts each to offer something to tourists. All parties needed to contribute - the District Councils, the Home Affairs Bureau, the Leisure and Cultural Services Bureau, the Jockey Club, commercial sponsors, and Hong Kong people. All had to make a major effort to discover Hong Kong and then present it to the visitors.
The Board had recommendations for each month. These included, the Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui, the flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia, the variety of food in Kowloon City. The idea was to awaken people's minds to the idea that it was not just three or four well-known districts that were worth visiting but everywhere. What the Board wanted to do was to market the whole of Hong Kong. And to impress upon the whole of Hong Kong that it had a role to play.
In commercial terms, marketing was not just about making a noise but about closing the deal. The Board was shifting emphasis from adverts to focus on arrival numbers and spending and length of stay. Length of stay was going down the world over because people had less time to be tourists. But they had more dollars to spend. To get tourists to spend more you had to have their attention and lead them to attractions.
Hence, the Board was more focused on growing the attractions. Hong Kong was one of the more expensive destinations in the region. But we were one of the hottest. Travel and Leisure had voted us the "Best City in Asia" for two years running. And of the fifteen top global destinations Hong Kong had come 14th, and the other 14 were all countries.
The Tourism Board was very small - just 300 people and one-third of those overseas. Since it was so small, the Board had to get leverage, to get people in the trade and in business to work with them. When long-haul tourists visited Asia, they wanted one location with multiple destinations. That was where Thailand, for example, scored so well. So one strategy was to partner with regional competitors to get the long-haul customers to Asia, and so share some of the business with them.
And of all regional partners, China was the most important. Hong Kong could conduct joint promotions with the Pearl River Delta. It could also cash in on major China events like the 2008 Olympics. This was now under discussion. Mrs Chow believed that the partnership could pay off very well.
Short-term effects from 11th September apart, tourism was a growing pie worldwide. Travel was becoming a necessity: workers needed to let off steam once in a while and escape from their home environment. Hong Kong's medium term prospects still looked good. The conference and exhibition business was continuing: Hong Kong was the major centre in Asia. Five major conferences had been confirmed since September 11th. In fact, Hong Kong had actually benefited: some conferences had been diverted to this part of the world.
The World Tourist Organisation forecast that by 2020 China would be the world's number one tourist destination, with 130 million arrivals. Hong Kong would have 56 million. Hong Kong could lead the growth in Asia.
A major pre-requisite for such growth would be training. This was the way to achieve higher value-added services. The Government wanted to license tour guides, but this required legislation and was still two years away. The guides for long-haul tourists were generally better-educated and gave reasonable service, but those for the Mainland visitors were not and often relied upon kick-backs. It would also be important to better coordinate the various Government units involved. If these things could be done, tourism could develop as a mainstay of the Hong Kong economy.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation
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