3 ways Hong Kong can easily and quickly up its tourism game

After the Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong’s neighbours all seem to have regained their tourism vibrancy before we have. And with a stronger currency, Hong Kong’s tourism offerings have become much less appealing.

We did not expect to see more outbound travellers than inbound visitors after Hong Kong reopened its borders last year. Over three days during the Easter holiday this year, for example, about 2 million residents left the city while visitor arrivals reached only 1.2 million. This net outflow of 800,000 people was a blow to the city’s retailers and restaurants who had hoped to cash in on the holiday bonanza.

If this trend persists, it will hurt Hong Kong’s economic recovery. Tourism Board numbers show that visitor arrivals last year were 31 million fewer than in 2018 – the drop in same-day arrivals from the mainland made up over half of this decline.

The pharmacy closures in Sheung Shui in recent years reflect falling demand from grey good traders, mostly from the mainland, who used to make up the bulk of same-day arrivals. This demand will not recover as online shopping has improved. More recently, the stronger Hong Kong dollar and the mainland’s economic slowdown has further weakened demand.

Nowadays, tourists care not only about prices but also about quality and variety. The mainland offers better value for money and even Hongkongers are crossing the border for leisure, where a nice restaurant meal can cost just HK$80 (US$10) per person vs HK$200 in Hong Kong. There is also a greater range of activities, including at theme parks, zoos, indoor sports parks and family-friendly hotels, many of which are either not available in Hong Kong or exist on a much smaller scale.

Still, there’s no reason for despair. Unique, novel experiences attract visitors and encourage consumption, and Hong Kong has all the ingredients it needs.

Firstly, it is an international, East-meets-West metropolis. One can start the day with authentic dim sum, then a world-class ballet, followed by a tandoori meal and a Thai massage.

Landmarks such as the Big Buddha and Wong Tai Sin Temple must be preserved for nostalgic visitors while new attractions such as the West Kowloon Cultural District and Tai Kwun should welcome site-specific shows and immersive dining. Mega events in music and sports, as well as cultural festivals should be held more frequently.

Secondly, as a free port with no tax on sales or imports, and plugged into a world-class logistics network, Hong Kong should be more aggressive in modernising its storage facilities and hosting events for upmarket goods, from art and yacht shows to wine tastings, to attract deep-pocketed visitors and businesses.

The recent three-day Art Basel, for instance, welcomed over 75,000 visitors from around the world, with the M+ museum and various art galleries hosting parties and viewings, adding to the city’s vibrancy.

Lastly, Hong Kong’s natural beauty awaits discovery. Most of our natural attractions are within 45 minutes of the city centre. However, they are underappreciated by locals and seldom marketed to visitors.

Hong Kong has 300km of beautiful hiking trails, 6,000 hectares of wetlands hosting migratory birds and stark hexagonal rock columns in its Unesco Global Geopark – any of which attraction could extend visitor stays and encourage spending.

In a city short of land, water sports can make a big splash for Hong Kong

Hong Kong also has over 1,000km of coastline, 263 islands and about 1,651 square kilometres of marine water. High-end water sports such as sailing and yachting should be promoted to complement the government’s strategy of attracting high-net-worth individuals and family offices.

Behavioural marketing and storytelling across social media should be used. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and Xiaohongshu are among the most popular social media for mainland visitors seeking tourist information, while foreigners tend to rely on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. Hong Kong’s tourism sector participants should segment the markets and collaborate with internet influencers to create customised content on social media platforms with different demographic and behavioural focuses.

In addition, it should be mandatory for government-sponsored commercial events, especially in Belt and Road Initiative countries, to promote the city’s tourism. Incentives such as free flights and hotel stays could be offered to proven influencers in exchange for promotional content. This would also create synergy with our commercial Belt and Road Initiative activities.

Tourists nowadays yearn for more personalised and unique experiences. Given Hong Kong’s attributes – from its East-meets-West cultural history to its free port tax-free status and vast natural attractions – the city can easily and quickly improve its tourism offerings to create unforgettable experiences for visitors and revive the industry.

Andy Cheng Yin-kwan is a member of the Tuen Mun district Council and vice-chairman of the Youth Affairs Committee in the Construction Industry Council



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