Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam

Hong Kong people, do your job! Sure, our city is more exciting than Singapore, but in the battle for post-Covid tourists we need to be more welcoming

  • The provision of half a million free air tickets to Hong Kong in 2023 shows the city’s desperation to revive tourism, but competition from Singapore is fierce
  • Many see the Lion City as more friendly, so it’s time for us Hong Kong residents to stop resting on our laurels and make our city a kinder place to visitors

There have been some vibrant discussions lately about whether Hong Kong is worth visiting after the government revved up efforts to lure tourists with plans to distribute half a million free air tickets to the city and other promotional benefits.

Besides providing this free passage by early 2023, there will be a slew of packaged travel deals worth a whopping total of HK$100 million (US$12.7 million), courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

For tourism-dependent cities and countries, the competition for tourist dollars has never been so fierce, as holiday-deprived people the world over are rushing to “get away” with the easing of Covid rules in most places.
The freebies offered by Hong Kong are certainly impressive, but cities like Singapore are also rolling out the red carpet for tourists. For cities like Hong Kong and Singapore that don’t have natural resources, this type of revenue is crucial.
Temple Street night market was among Hong Kong’s most popular tourist attractions before Covid-19. Photo: Getty Images

Income from tourists not only provides jobs, but stimulates the economy, creates incentives to invest in infrastructure and human capital, and encourages a city to preserve its cultural heritage and natural wonders.

After nearly three years of inert tourism around the world, many places are desperate to revive their tourism sectors.

Restaurants along Hong Kong’s Temple Street are sure to attract lots of visitors when tourism fully returns to the city. Photo: Getty Images

Hong Kong’s latest efforts in this regard have grabbed the world’s attention, triggering a fervent discourse among fans and detractors.


One diehard fan defended Hong Kong when some people claimed the city is not as appealing to tourists as Singapore, and called the latter “Singabore”.

Scott Hegarty, a Hong Kong resident, wrote in a letter recently published in the Post that “even a square foot of Hong Kong has more personality than Singapore could ever hope to have”.

Singapore may not be as dynamic as Hong Kong, but calling it “Singabore” is a bit harsh. Photo: Getty Images
He also asked: “How many cities have examples of both ancient Chinese and Victorian architecture?” The “Singabore” comment may be harsh, but it has effectively summed up the personality of each city – Hong Kong is more dynamic while Singapore is strait-laced.

Hong Kong is known to be a super-efficient city and, because of its compact size, visitors can cram a lot of culture into a short visit. One day you may be eating a range of Chinese regional cuisines and the next day you could be dining on elevated Spanish cuisine at Agora or fine Lebanese fare at Maison Libanaise.

And who can forget the amazing dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant?
Mak Kwai-pui, founder of Tim Ho Wan, at his shop in Sham Shui Po. Photo: Dickson Lee

The city is also famed for its highly efficient and affordable public transport system, vibrant street markets, and astonishingly low levels of crime.


It’s clear that I am a big fan of Hong Kong, but that also means I can be one of its harshest critics. Since I love the city so much, I want it to succeed and not to become complacent, which may be the case at the moment.

It is the very nature of trends to come and go. Even the best products can be surpassed and replaced if they don’t evolve with the times and changing consumers’ tastes.

Dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, the self-proclaimed world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant. Photo: Dickson Lee

Just as we gravitate towards people we are attracted to, that initial force of magnetism inevitably fades if it is not sustained by other qualities. Relationships are maintained by qualities such as kindness, sensitivity, and dependability.


The same goes for a city – a magnetic personality alone is not enough to draw in visitors and keep them coming back. Hong Kong is an alluring city, but it has been sitting on its laurels while the world has been evolving with the times.

Singapore may appear to be sterile because it is clean and orderly, but it is highly appealing to families with children. When my daughter was little, we used to travel to the Lion City a lot for short holidays because of how child-friendly it is.

Dear Tourism Board, enough of the clichés – Hong Kong just isn’t what it was

By comparison, Hong Kong is an exciting metropolis like New York and Tokyo, but it is not always as friendly and helpful; in fact, it can come off as abrasive to some visitors.


We should endeavour to make visitors feel more welcome in our city. This means offering a helping hand to its visitors and showing them just how great our city is and what it has to offer.

Every resident is a Hong Kong ambassador – so do your job, people!

Every Hong Kong resident is an ambassador of the city, so let’s embrace tourism and make visitors feel welcome. Photo: Jonathan Wong

We want visitors to remember our city with such fondness that even if they don’t return, they will spread the good word on our behalf. And if they do wish to grace us with their presence once more, we want to make sure every future trip can offer something new.


For the detractors who think Hong Kong is not that appealing to tourists, thank you for your warning. We need this kind of critique to keep us on our toes, otherwise we run the risk of relying on old tourist tropes to keep visitors interested.

Hong Kong has never been averse to reinventing itself, so why not?

Luisa Tam is a Post editor who also hosts video tutorials on Cantonese language that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme