Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is already subconsciously choosing which bow ties to take on his first overseas trips since taking office three months ago. One of the more conservative ones will do for the meeting with US President George W. Bush later this month, while something a little flashier is probably in order for the session with Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair - perhaps something with big, red spots or in vivid yellow. The ties will certainly set Mr Tsang apart from his predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, who cut a less than colourful figure when he met Mr Bush in 2001 and Mr Blair two years later. What sort of a reception he will get is uncertain, though - his style is certainly different to Mr Tung's, but Hong Kong is no nearer internationally-sought democratic freedoms and many perceive it to be slipping behind the glitter of mainland China's dramatic rise. In announcing the visits last Monday to Canada and the US starting this week and Britain early next month, Mr Tsang did not reveal concern about being grilled on any of Hong Kong's shortcomings. But the high-level government and business delegations accompanying him would seem to reveal otherwise. When he lands in Vancouver next weekend for meetings with British Columbia province officials and business people, Hong Kong's image will be foremost in his mind. His biggest problem is that beyond global corporations looking for a base for their Asia-Pacific headquarters, Hong Kong would not appear to be on too many other minds. Americans, Britons and Canadians spoken to last week agreed that Hong Kong rarely got mentioned in their media. American travel consultant Sophia Kulich, who visited recently, was full of praise for the services, value for money and friendliness she encountered, but baffled by the lack of promotion of the city in the US. 'I think Americans would like to visit Hong Kong, but there is not enough awareness because of a lack of promotion,' Ms Kulich, whose firm, E&M Travel is based in Westport, Connecticut, said. 'There were commercials on television several years ago, but I have not seen anything since.' Senior Canadian journalist Estanislao Oziewicz encapsulated the views: 'At one time, Hong Kong was on everyone's mind, but that's tailed off a lot since the handover. 'Part of that is that Hong Kong, to me, was always a really vibrant place and at least in perception, it's lost a lot of that,' the world affairs reporter for the Globe and Mail newspaper observed from Toronto. 'It seems that China has put its hand over Hong Kong and there is now a lot more attention on places like Beijing and certainly Shanghai.' Britain's consul-general to Hong Kong, Stephen Bradley said that increasing numbers of foreign companies were clearly coming here, eager to do business, but the government had a broader perspective of its problems. 'The government may well feel that Hong Kong has become slightly lost in the China dazzle,' Mr Bradley observed. 'There is something to that in the sense that China has now become such a top story that in both business and government and the media, there is lots about China, but not much about Hong Kong. It's as if Hong Kong is lost from view in all the excitement.' Mr Tsang's overseas trips would be an opportunity to remind the outside world about the city's existence and that it was a good stepping stone from which to do business in China, he said. As a consistent policy approach, the 'government's got to be right to bang the gong'. But many in the financial sector are confused as to why the government needs to promote Hong Kong and is seemingly forever worried about its international standing. American researcher David Meyer, a regular visitor and the author of Hong Kong is a Global Metropolis, ranked the city firmly beside New York and London when asked to name the top three global financial centres. He saw the position as strengthening, rather than diminishing in coming decades - mostly because of the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies. 'The interaction of the Indian and Chinese business communities is really going to enhance Hong Kong,' the professor from Rhode Island's Brown University said. 'It's not Mumbai or Shanghai - it's going to be Hong Kong as the pivot of the growth and integration of the economies of India and China. Hong Kong grows with that.' American business people had long been interested in Hong Kong and continued to see it as the perfect location for their Asia-Pacific headquarters. The world's top companies were operating from the city 'because it's the global business centre of Asia and they've got to be there to operate effectively'. Professor Meyer believed government fears that the city was being sidelined by the mainland were unfounded. The 'woe is us' attitude of some officials was not shared by business community executives, nor were attractions such as Disneyland vital to the future - New York had no such need for a Disneyland, so nor should Hong Kong. He considered improving the quality of life important, especially education standards and the environment, but said that foreign leaders were more worried about American foreign policy towards China or what would happen with Taiwan. Most importantly, though, the government needed to maintain a level playing field in which to do business, using US and British regulations as models. Few doubt that Mr Tsang will get a friendly reception from Mr Bush and Mr Blair when he meets them. They are likely to be similarly praiseworthy of Hong Kong's achievements. Former British foreign secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe said the anxieties in Britain about Hong Kong prior to 1997 had dissipated because of the impressive way the government had handled the transition. 'I'm delighted with the general pattern of what has subsequently happened,' Sir Geoffrey told the Sunday Morning Post from London. 'Many people would not have believed it possible for Hong Kong to maintain its forward march, to recover from the Asian economic storm as well as it did. 'I know it was a tough time while it lasted, but Hong Kong is still a very vibrant and dynamic and important economy, growing well now ... The atmosphere and style and quality seem remarkably unchanged.' Matters had been 'handled with considerable respect for the Joint Declaration' and although the next stage towards universal suffrage was being eagerly looked towards, that eventuality was on the agenda. Sir Geoffrey, who handled Britain's foreign affairs under prime minister Margaret Thatcher from 1983 to 1989, was intimately involved in hammering out the details of Hong Kong's return to China. The British government was still deeply interested in Hong Kong matters, he said. Hong Kong and China expert at Oxford University's St Antony's College Steve Tsang Yui-sang, agreed that Britain was keeping a close watch on developments in the city. 'The UK has a vested interest in maintaining a positive image of Hong Kong because we want to make sure that things will go well,' Dr Tsang observed. 'What we used to have as a simple, straightforward obligation towards Hong Kong has become a moral obligation. If Hong Kong goes down the drain, it still will reflect very badly on the UK.' Many people living in Hong Kong held British passports, so it was in Britain's interest to ensure that the Special Administrative Region remained stable, he said. Nonetheless, he believed the city's image was less positive than it had been because of the financial difficulties encountered since 1997 and governance issues. 'It's more than just a matter of democracy or the lack of progress in that direction - it's also the general process of governance, of the way the government is managing the economy and the environment,' Dr Tsang said. 'Regrettably, we have not seen progress, but backwards developments in most of those areas.' One mistake that had been corrected was replacing Mr Tung, a move that was generally seen as being positive, he suggested. Britain's government now wanted Donald Tsang to be good for Hong Kong. There was 'tremendous goodwill in wanting to see him be very successful'. Dr Tsang said such circumstances meant the chief executive would most likely not undergo tough questioning when he saw Mr Blair. 'He will face a fairly friendly reception and general sympathy. But he may face some questions about whether he has really gone far enough in terms of changing, for example, the ministerial system of government.' With an easy ride during his first foreign trip likely, Mr Tsang's toughest moment may yet be choosing which bow ties to take with him.