Leadership exodus hits tourism board

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 January, 2007, 12:00am

Industry on tenterhooks as replacements for top officials still not known

The Hong Kong Tourism Board has been hit by a wave of resignations of top officials at a time when its chairman and chief executive are preparing to leave the marketing organisation.

The latest resignation to be disclosed is deputy executive director Grace Lee Chan Ka-yan. After 20 years with the tourism promotion body and its predecessor, the Hong Kong Tourism Association, Ms Lee quietly resigned last October. Her resignation has not been officially announced, and she is expected to remain with the board until May.

Ms Lee resigned about the same time as chief executive Clara Chong Ming-wah announced she would stand down in March after six years in the top job. Board chairwoman, executive councillor Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, is also due to depart in March.

Ms Chow and Ms Chong guided the board's transition from the old Hong Kong Tourist Association with its hundreds of members to the 20-member tourism board.

Ms Chong, a former top banker, is tipped to return to business. Ms Chow is following guidelines that advisory board members should not serve more than six years.

No replacement for the chairman or the two top executives has been named, leading to a mood of crisis within the tourism and travel industries. The board's chairman is appointed by the chief executive. It is up to the board itself to find an executive director.

Also leaving are general manager of industry training and human resources Brenda Chan Oi-lai and tourism marketing general manager Aliana Ho Chan Mei-hung.

Several top sources in the travel industry expect the government to make the announcement about Ms Chow's replacement 'within a few days'.

There is speculation that Ms Chow may be asked to stay on in a caretaker role. A board spokesman said Ms Lee had agreed to stay on as acting chief executive until the end of May to ensure a smooth transition in the reshuffle.

By then, the global effort to find a replacement for Ms Chong is expected to have borne fruit. Headhunters are also looking for someone to fill Ms Lee's position.

'The board will ensure the smooth operation of the organisation and will begin a search for a replacement for Grace Lee as soon as possible,' Ms Chong said yesterday. 'I know it is quite worrying to see some senior managers leaving HKTB within such a short period.

'More media stories will only make the existing staff members more confused and concerned.'

The exodus has worried tourism industry figures. Hong Kong Hotels Association executive director James Lu Shien-hwai said his organisation had heard nothing about a replacement for Ms Chow.

'But it should soon be forthcoming, knowing how the government machinery works,' he said. 'It's not the best arrangement and we are concerned.'

The executive director of the Travel Industry Council, Joseph Tung Yao-chung, said: 'I don't have any idea who will replace Selina and Clara. Everybody in the travel trade is anxious to know who they will be. All we can do is wait.'