Market Hong Kong in new ways to lure visitors other than mainlanders
- The city has long relied on compatriots for its tourist traffic, but the trade war and growing local complaints make that strategy risky
- To draw in more foreigners, authorities should look at what sites and scenes they are extolling on social media
Hong Kong seems headed for a record number of visitors this year, with the bridge linking the city to Macau and Zhuhai and the high-speed rail line contributing to the upsurge. But as much as topping the 2014 peak of 60.8 million looks likely, the trade war between China and the United States has cast a gloomy outlook for next year. Most tourists are from the mainland and most come on day trips; should the row have a significant economic impact, a sector that accounts for 4.5 per cent of gross domestic product and 6.7 per cent of the workforce is bound to suffer. Identifying new markets is the easy part – more difficult is how to promote attractions in a manner while appeasing residents annoyed by the influx.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has the right idea, recently writing in his blog that officials should explore easing visa requirements for some countries involved in Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”. They could also make use of the advantages offered by the “Greater Bay Area” to work with neighbouring tourism attractions to promote multi-destination itineraries. Hong Kong’s small size means it is most often a transit stop for foreign visitors and getting them to stay longer than a day or two has always been a challenge. Expanding what is on offer by joining hands with Guangdong province and keeping tourists in the region longer makes sense.
Attracting mainland visitors has never been difficult for Hong Kong. The city’s reputation as a shopping and food destination is cemented, although spending is impacted by the strength of the US dollar. But the influx does not always sit easily with locals, whose lives are disrupted by busier footpaths, shops catering more to visitors than locals and streets choked by tour buses. Those are matters authorities have to take into account while trying to boost numbers.
A worsening of the trade war could too easily disrupt the flow of cross-border visitors. Strengthening the percentage of foreign tourists has long been the goal of the Tourism Board and efforts have to be redoubled. Budget airlines have made tourists more experienced and discerning and online shopping has eroded the attractiveness of malls. A look at the likes and dislikes of Hong Kong on social media gives a hint of how tastes have changed and what overseas visitors are seeking out.
The most popular photo locations on Instagram are inspirational. Images of skyscrapers, views, theme parks and plates of exotic food are pushed aside by shots of the Western District cargo working area, public housing estates and remote or hard-to-get-to locations. It is a different way of looking at our city that increasing numbers of people want to see and that officials have to be mindful of as they promote Hong Kong to attract new faces.