The most eagerly awaited event in recent memory has turned out to be a sobering letdown. The reopening of the border with the mainland did not result in the anticipated flood of inbound tourists, or even come close to filling the quotas on the first two days. Local pharmacies and tour bus operators among others were understandably disappointed. The government put a brave face on it. Amid intense competition, the mainland market can no longer be taken for granted. The anticlimax is a timely reminder that the lifting of Covid-19 controls does not automatically mean the return of the good old days. The mainland may be the world’s biggest tourism consumer market, right on the city’s doorstep. But after three years of pandemic-related constraint, global and regional competition for tourists – a quick source of an economic boost – matches demand for talent and investment. Chinese travel horizons have broadened. Hong Kong must move with the times if it is to catch up with places that reopened sooner. Hong Kong to launch ‘big’ promotion to lure visitors, city leader says It is good therefore that Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has announced the launch of a “big promotion exercise” next month to lure visitors to the city. That said, he rightly put the underwhelming inbound response to the border reopening into better perspective. The natural tide of cross-border visits leading up to the Lunar New Year is to the north, for family reunions. That may be expected to continue right up to the Lunar New Year holiday. Moreover, as Lee pointed out, over the past three years the visas of many would-be visitors to Hong Kong have expired, and could not be renewed overnight after the border was opened. Those with a valid visa would be a minority. That does not mean the anticipated flood of visitors will not materialise eventually; it will just take longer. The city should strive to turn this into a positive by rebuilding its tourism sector to prepare for a flood of arrivals. The question is whether the city’s attractions are ready to cope with a post-holiday deluge. Industry players have been warning the city is not really ready. A manpower shortage is evidence of that. The city should be gearing up for competition for tourists because it will be intense. Bulk of travel over Hong Kong-mainland China border since reopening is going north Singapore, for example, has adopted a very liberal stance as to who can enter. Unless Hong Kong rises to the challenge it risks losing out to Singapore in terms of mainland Chinese tourists. The chief executive exudes confidence that “things will get to the normal condition” after the holiday, with other activities to follow very quickly, including tourism, exhibitions, retail and catering services. Let’s hope that the promotion exercise, when it is unveiled, lends weight to that confidence.