HKTB was wrong about lemmings so why trust it with mice?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am

'Mrs Chow [Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee of the Hong Kong Tourism Board] said the city should focus on being the 'events capital of Asia' since per capita spending by the MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] market averages about HK$10,000 compared with HK$4,600 for other tourists.'

SCMP, February 8

WE MAY HAVE some problems of mice and maths here. The HKTB cannot actually give us accurate figures on spending by mice as visitors are not required to declare whether they are mice or not. This, I suppose, explains that clean straight figure of a '1' followed by four round zeros. I doubt that it came from a calculator.

But I am more concerned here with lemmings than with mice. The sort I have in mind are dropped off with their tour guides in the hundreds every day at a tawdry little 'temple' near my home in Repulse Bay. Real tourist attractions are somewhat in short supply in the area but anything can be turned into a tourist trap.

This one is actually an old lifeguards' station kitted out with a big Tin Hau statue and the usual collection of smaller mythical beasts. When the chosen special one gets too rubbed down by tourist hands, another one is made special and the line-ups form again. There is also a 'longevity' bridge. Walk across it and you'll live forever or, maybe, another year. I'm not quite sure what the pitch is at the moment.

It's not as bad as that gruesome Tiger Balm Gardens on Tai Hang Road before Cheung Kong hugely improved the place by tearing down these 'gardens' and building residential blocks but you can still see many of the lemmings from the mainland walk back to their coaches afterwards with an 'is-that-really-it?' look on their faces.

Now, however, these lemmings are getting wise as to how they have been herded for their money since they started coming in much greater numbers six years ago. Now they no longer come in quite the numbers that the HKTB forecast. They increasingly have a wider selection of choice and they are taking advantage of it.

But if Selina Chow has indeed come to the view that mice are better than lemmings, you have to ask why the HKTB then wants to raise the proportion of its marketing budget allocated to the mainland from 13 per cent to 30 per cent. It's a lemming market, not a mice market, isn't it?

And why reinforce marketing failure? If the lemmings would rather be herded somewhere else, can we really achieve much by spending money to argue their decision with them?

There are some other obvious questions that beg for answers here. For one, the HKTB was given a special non-recurrent funding grant of HK$470 million over the past two years to stage its 'Discover Hong Kong' campaign.

Clearly that campaign has not come to much. The growth in arrivals last year was only half of what the HKTB told us to expect. The lemmings in the biggest market were obviously not pulled while mice don't come here to go out and discover Hong Kong. They come here for meetings, conferences and exhibitions.

What we have here then is Mrs Chow implicitly telling us that she got it wrong. She now says the route to success is the mice market just after we spent HK$470 million at her behest and to little effect on a campaign that emphasised the non-mice attractions of Hong Kong.

I don't think the word 'apology' is absolutely required here but shouldn't we at least have a concession from the HKTB along the lines of: 'Sorry for wasting your money, folks, we got it wrong. That one was a flop.'

And can we really be certain that the mice market is the one for us in the future? I ask because prowling out there at the moment is a mice-eater in a different league from the HKTB. He goes by the name of Sheldon Adelson and his big mice trap, the Venetian in Macau, has now been topped out. It will soon be baited for business.

Leave alone that the mice meeting facilities available there (and Mr Adelson has plans for even bigger things) are multiples the size of any venue in Hong Kong, the Venetian will also offer casinos and other diversions, some of which may, shall we say ... ahem ... not be quite as readily available in Hong Kong.

Thus it wouldn't surprise me two or three years from now to see the HKTB peddle a different future emphasis again as a cloak to another past disappointment.

I think I have the best solution of all, however. Let's do ourselves a favour and save some money. Let's cut the HKTB's budget, a big hefty cut.