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Tourists to Hong Kong want new draws, not shopping malls, says commerce chief as industry emerges from ‘bottom of trough’

He reveals city targets high-yield and young visitors who want ‘distinctive’ experience

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 October, 2017, 9:15am

Hong Kong’s tourism industry was finally picking up after hitting the “bottom of the trough”, a ­minister said, and the government was keen to draw visitors to rural and cultural attractions ­instead of just shopping malls.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the targets were high-yield and young ­tourists seeking a “distinctive” experience.

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“I think we can be sure that we have come out of the bottom of the trough that we have seen in the last couple of years, which was a result of multiple factors – some global and regional economic situations, some local situations, like how we treated our tourists,” Yau said in an interview with the Post.

The “local situations” referred to earlier protests against mainland tourists who swarmed Sheung Shui and other districts, causing inconvenience to locals.

Yau’s optimism is backed up by the 1.9 per cent year-on-year growth in global tourist arrivals to 38 million in the first eight months this year. That figure had dropped 4.5 per cent to 56.6 million last year from 2015. The ­decrease in mainland tourist arrivals was even higher, at 6.7 per cent.

“The more we can have a ­diverse mix of tourists, the better it will suit Hong Kong’s case ­because Hong Kong is such a tiny place. We don’t want every tourist to come to the same spot doing exactly the same thing,” Yau said.

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“Long gone are the days we can say Hong Kong [is] a shopping paradise and therefore we are guiding all the tourists to our shopping malls.”

In her recent policy address, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor stressed the need to develop cultural, heritage, green and creative tourism.

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Yau said this was important because visitors now liked to spend time in the countryside when they came to the city. The 300-year-old village of Lai Chi Wo could be one such prime draw for tourists, he said.

Technology should respect the local jurisdiction of laws and regulations
Edward Yau Tang-wah, commerce secretary

He also pointed to the PMQ, formerly the Police Married Quarters built in 1951 and now turned into a creative cluster, as an example of what Hong Kong could offer apart from shopping centres.

The tourism industry is heavily reliant on mainland travellers, who made up 76 per cent of total visitor numbers last year. Yau said it might not be possible to reverse this composition, as Hong Kong was close to many mainland cities. But there could still be diversity in the source of tourists, as China is such a vast country.

He also touched on how services and apps were increasingly popular with the tech-savvy younger visitors the city was eager to court. But he cautioned: “Technology should respect the local jurisdiction of laws and regulations controlling the activities, be it Uber, Airbnb or shared bikes.”

Even though young tourists might be fond of using such platforms, he said, the law should not be undermined.

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Yau said he had tried Uber’s ride-hailing service in Europe, but not in Hong Kong.

Uber is illegal in the city and was recently banned in London. It is also against the law for homeowners to rent their flats to visitors through Airbnb in Hong Kong.