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Redefining Hong Kong

‘Disruption needs to take place in Hong Kong’: tourism industry veterans discuss how city can reinvent itself

Further development for Victoria Harbour and more events among suggestions from Redefining Hong Kong panel, which included former Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 9:27am

Hong Kong needs authenticity, fresh blood, technology, Victoria Harbour and some “disruptions” to reinvent its flagging inbound tourism, according to industry veterans.

To attract the growing demographic of millennial travellers who prefer cultural experience over luxury, Hong Kong government officials should think out of the box, and even break some rules, they urged on Friday.

“Disruption needs to take place in Hong Kong ... The government itself needs to be disrupted,” leading businessman Allan Zeman said at the “Redefining Hong Kong” forum organised by the South China Morning Post.

Zeman, who is also an adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the government needed an “overhaul” to catch up with the fast-changing world.

“If I would have run Ocean Park the way the government wanted, it would never have reached where we are now,” he said.

Zeman, who turned around the fortunes of Ocean Park during his capacity as its chairman for the 11 years to mid-2014, is now an adviser to the theme park.

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He recalled telling the media a few years ago that he planned to build hotels at the park without informing its only shareholder, the government, in advance.

“Of course, the government called me the next day, saying how could you announce building hotels without saying anything to us. They were really blasting me,” Zeman said.

“I said if you don’t like the idea, I suggest you call a press conference and tell them there won’t be any hotel. If you believe in something, make it happen.”

Construction of two high-end hotels is under way at Ocean Park now.

Zeman also urged the city to equip itself with the latest internet technologies to cater to a younger generation of tourists.

“QR codes should be installed in every district in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that the city was lagging behind mainland China significantly in the electronic payment field.

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Sarah Mathews, head of destination marketing at travel portal TripAdvisor’s Asian Pacific division, called for more efforts from Hongkongers to diversify the city’s tourism offerings.

“We don’t do enough in sharing our stories. We need to be super passionate about Hong Kong, sharing all the hidden places,” Mathews said.

But she was sceptical about suggestions of creating new attractions, which she considered “not authentic”.

“What we mustn’t lose is our DNA ... If you lose that, you will be making something fake. If you create a fake experience in Hong Kong, it just doesn’t work for tourists,” she said.

Mathews urged the government to develop areas along Victoria Harbour other than Tsim Sha Tsui, Wan Chai and Central so that visitors could spread out more.

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To catch up with the latest tourist trend, she also urged the government and industry players to consult the city’s youth.

“We need to bring them to the discussion. They are the ones who will live in the city afterwards and continue the works we are doing,” she said.

Panellist Dr Stella Kwan Mun-yee, managing director of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride on Lantau, suggested the government should do longer-term planning for tourism development.

Another panellist, George Liu of Hong Kong Airlines, called on the Tourism Board to increase the number of festivals or events in the city, as he saw growing appetite among mainland Chinese tourists for art shows, exhibitions and other attractions organised by the city.