Hong Kong must diversify to boost tourist numbers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 1:55am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 August, 2015, 1:55am

Hong Kong's prominence as a business and finance centre guarantees high traveller numbers, but factors beyond our control can determine the amount of people visiting for other reasons. Shopping is no longer the magnet it once was. If a tourism base that is robust and dependable is to be attained, we have to look for new attractions while protecting those that make our city special. Fortunately, there is an abundance of such enticements.

An annual poll by the travel magazine SmartTravelAsia.com highlighted the challenge. While Hong Kong remained the top city in Asia for business travel, as a holiday destination it slipped from second to fifth. Currency fluctuations and the peg between the Hong Kong and US dollars are crucial factors. On-line shopping and global brands give less reason to venture from home. But mainlanders, who comprise the vast majority of tourists and were the reason behind a years-long surge in retail sales, have also increasingly been staying away. Anti-mainlander sentiment by some Hongkongers is in part to blame, but they are also making fewer luxury purchases, the devaluation of the yuan makes our city less appealing, flight congestion is problematic and exotic locations are a lure.

Keeping tourist numbers up therefore has to be about better promoting what Hong Kong has that other cities do not. These can be strengthened with enticements that are innovative, creative or simply fun. Plans for a zip-line on the roof of a shopping centre on The Peak is such a draw. Perhaps there is room for another amusement park. Our famous skyline is forever changing. But too often we overlook what our city already has that brings visitors or has the potential to do so.

Among them are Chinese food - no other city has such variety and quality; country parks and walking trails; Hong Kong Island's tram network; historic sites; and, of course, Victoria Harbour and surrounding islands and waters. But we should also not forget our reputation as a city where the Eastern world meets the West and how both have been integrated into society. In a single day, visitors can eat traditional dim sum and a gourmet French meal, visit a Chinese temple and a church and see Cantonese opera and a symphony orchestra.

A successful tourism strategy involves diversification. Being overly dependent on a single attraction is risky. Identifying what makes our city different and highlighting that to potential visitors creates a sound base from which to build and expand.