HK eyes tourism boost in Russia and Middle East

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2007, 12:00am

Call to spur visitors to the city

Hong Kong should have greater representation in the Middle East and Russia to better exploit the growing potential of these emerging markets as important sources of tourist arrivals to the city, the chairman of the Tourism Board said.

The number of tourist arrivals from oil-rich countries in the Middle East as well as Russia has recorded double-digit growth for the past few years but both markets are currently served by the board's Frankfurt office.

'We feel we should have an office in one of the Middle Eastern nations. This way, we can hire local staff who know and understand what locals want instead of relying on the Frankfurt office to look after the Middle East and Russia,' board chairman James Tien Pei-chun said.

Flying time between Frankfurt and the Middle East is about five hours. If a Middle Eastern office was set up, he said he believed Dubai or Bahrain would be suitable locations given frequent direct flights with Hong Kong. In August the board named Discover The World Marketing as its first official representative in Russia, allowing for more direct and closer relationships with that country's travel trade.

Mr Tien said the government should consider allocating project-specific funds and resources to allow the board to set up more overseas offices in key markets. But he needed to see how well the Frankfurt office fared in developing the Middle East and Russia before raising the subject with the government, he said. The board's four offices in the European Union are in London, Paris, Barcelona and Frankfurt.

'Frankfurt is looking after Russia. How can such a large market not even have an office of its own? Without more funds, it's just a reallocation of resources,' he said.

The board is regularly criticised by lawmakers who accuse it of spending too freely. However, Mr Tien said this was unfair, as much of the board's work was done outside Hong Kong to attract visitors to the city.

Given the limited resources, the board is focusing its Middle Eastern marketing efforts on the six member nations of the Gulf Co-operation Council - Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar is one of the smallest of the members in terms of population and area but has the highest per capita gross domestic product at US$62,914. Saudi Arabia, the largest, has one of the lowest per capita GDPs at US$14,715. Their combined population is roughly 40 million, or about 10 per cent of the entire Middle East.

Board figures show arrivals from the Middle East in the first eight months of this year were 123,324, up 27.7 per cent from a year ago. Mr Tien said while the number of these visitors was still low, the percentage increase had been strong and had the potential to grow.

Average per capita spending by overnight visitors to Hong Kong from the Middle East last year was HK$6,071, far higher than the overall average of HK$4,799. Seventy-eight per cent also visited the city with their families.