Tourism board turns a corner

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 March, 2010, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Tourism Board's image of extravagance is fading, says newly reappointed chairman James Tien Pei-chun, who is planning to turn some popular projects into annual events.

'My friends might be showing their support, but they said to me: 'James, you are doing quite well these days [and] the Tourism Board has improved a lot',' Tien said.

He took up the chairmanship in April 2007 when the Tourism Board was under fire for its lavish spending in areas ranging from travel to salaries and benefits.

That criticism came in a Director of Audit report.

The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee was also critical of the board and offered some recommendations.

'That was unforgettable,' Tien said, saying that it was difficult for a new chairman to identify all the issues within an organisation. But the two reports helped him a lot.

'The progress was quite challenging. And perhaps because we have taken [in] a lot of the suggestions, the public, legislators and the government can see the changes in us ... the public no longer has the impression that we are extravagant or a big spender. As the chairman, I am also very happy about it.'

Tien, who will start his second term next month, described his tenure of nearly three years as 'very tough' and filled with a lot of ups and downs.

He had to handle the damage to Hong Kong's reputation as a tourism destination after a CCTV report in 2007 alleged that a diamond pendant and a watch sold to mainland tourists were fake.

He also needed to deal with the plunge in visitor arrivals after the global financial crisis in 2008 and the effect of the swine flu pandemic in May last year.

Asked how he had felt facing such challenging times for Hong Kong tourism, Tien said: 'I and the whole team will try our best ... in good times, I work and hope things will get better; when times are rough, I hope things will not get worse.'

Indeed, the Tourism Board, with Tien at its helm, has seen Hong Kong setting records. Arrivals surged from 25.3 million in 2006 to more than 29.5 million last year.

Looking forward, Tien said the board was planning to turn some successful projects such as the wine and dine festival and the summer pop concert into regular annual events.

He said the summer pop concert, which made its debut last year in a bid to woo tourists after the outbreak of swine flu, would be held at the Hong Kong Coliseum in the last weekend of August.

The board will organise a dragon boat carnival in July, a month when there are fewer big festivals and events to attract tourists.