Diversification key to rebuilding Hong Kong’s tourism industry

A push to attract visitors from specific demographic groups, although not in itself a solution, at least offers hope to city’s battered retail sector

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 12:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 12:34am

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are tied to the retail sector, so it is natural that a year of monthly declines in sales has authorities worried. With figures showing a drop of 13 per cent in the first two months of this year compared to last, the worst performance since the tail end of the Asian economic crisis in 1999, and no foreseeable rebound in sight, the gloom in the industry is palpable.

A combination of factors is at play, some of which we have no control over, but that is not reason to admit defeat.

The Tourism Board’s promotional push to attract visitors from specific demographic groups, although not in itself a solution, at least offers hope.

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Retail sales figures have been falling in tandem with tourism numbers. The drop in visitors in the first two months of the year compared to 2015 was coincidentally also 13 per cent, although the level for people from the mainland was down a sharper 18 per cent. Cross-boundary shoppers have long been the lifeblood of the retail sector, particularly when it comes to luxury goods. The mainland’s economic slowdown, a crackdown on corruption and a trend for cross-boundary travellers to go further afield is largely blamed for the 24.2 per cent plunge in sales for expensive products like jewellery and watches.

Attracting visitors is not easy when the value of the Hong Kong dollar is up compared to other currencies. Nor given the bleak global economic outlook should we expect miracles. Looking overseas for new tourism markets that target specific groups therefore makes sense. The board’s latest strategy is to encourage visits by families from across the region and young professionals aged from 25 to 45.

It is all about reshaping Hong Kong’s image as a tourist destination. There is no guarantee that the retail sector will fully regain lost ground and visitor numbers alone should not be our tourism goal. We have to be prepared to diversify and adapt. The changed tourism strategy seems a good starting point.