Think outside the box to sustain the growth in tourism

Tourists can a be a fickle lot, so Hong Kong must come up with regular attractions that will keep them flocking to the city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 12:35am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 August, 2016, 12:35am

Tourists can be a fickle lot, their destination choices often being swayed by factors cities trying to attract them have no control over. That is why Hong Kong tourism officials are unable to pinpoint exactly the reason for a surprise turnaround in the number of visitors coming here from the mainland last month.

Perhaps it is because the stronger yen makes going to Japan more expensive or maybe it is due to cheaper hotel rates. Whatever the reason, it is obvious that if the sector is to maintain a strong market share, it has to come up with attractions that are resilient to outside forces.

After 13 months of decline in overall numbers, the 2.2 per cent increase in mainland visitor arrivals in July from the same time last year is a welcome shift. Mainlanders make up three-quarters of the total visitor arrivals, so the rebound gives hope of a reversal of what had been a grim outlook. The Tourism Board is being cautious, though, for now maintaining its forecast for the year of a 1.8 per cent fall on the figure for 2015.

Mainland Chinese tourist arrivals grow for first time in 13 months, Hong Kong Tourism Board says

It is not for now known where the mainland visitors were from and how long they stayed. Spending amounts are 15.8 per cent down, though, with each handing over HK$7,105 during stays in the first half of this year. Reduced hotel rates could in part account for that, but the rise has not reversed the steep downward slide in retail sales figures.

Tourism brings all manner of benefits to an economy, but numbers alone should not be Hong Kong’s goal. Backlashes against districts clogged with visitors and complaints over shortages of everyday shopping items point towards the need for quality over quantity.

Annual events like the cross-harbour swim and Formula E car race and one-offs like a proposed Pokemon Go feature at the upcoming wine and dine fair can bring in visitors, but we also need sustainable attractions that can guarantee tourists on a regular basis and are not vulnerable to factors like currency fluctuations.