Big nod for HK$380m tourism lift

Updated: 2017-02-23 07:44

By Zhou Mo in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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 Big nod for HK$380m tourism lift

Hong Kong's famous Victoria Harbour - a focal point for tourists. Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po launched a major effort in his maiden budget on Wednesday to give the city's battered tourism sector a much needed shot in the arm by waiving licence fees for travel agencies, hotels and restaurants and allocating extra funds to strengthen Hong Kong's tourism promotion efforts. Anthony Kwan / Bloomberg

Industry experts hail government's 'positive effort' to get HK's ailing industry out of the doldrums

The Hong Kong government's move to come to the rescue of the city's hard-hit tourism business has been heralded as a positive bid to take some of the chill out of the sector that has yet to come out of the woods after being battered by a lingering subdued economy and a shattering decline in the number of tourists.

Industry insiders and scholars have also called for stepped-up efforts to give local tourism a much needed shot in the arm.

Delivering his maiden budget on Wednesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said HK$137 million will be set aside to waive license fees for industry operators as the SAR grapples with a continued slowdown in the tourism market.

Hong Kong's 1,800 travel agents, as well as more than 2,000 hotels and guesthouses, will be exempted from paying license fees for one year. License fees for restaurants and hawkers and fees for restricted food permits will also be waived for one year, benefiting 27,000 eateries and operators.

An extra sum of HK$243 million will be allocated for promoting Hong Kong tourism both on the Chinese mainland and overseas.

"While the local tourism industry has become more stable, the outlook for the coming year remains challenging," Chan warned.

Visitors made 56.66 million trips to Hong Kong in 2016 - down 4.5 percent over the previous year - according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). The fall was mainly caused by a substantial drop in the number of trips made by mainland tourists - a drop of 6.7 percent year-on-year.

The HKTB has forecast a 2.2-percent fall in the number of tourists to about 55.3 million this year as a strengthening Hong Kong dollar will divert more visitors to other destinations, while the tightening of travel permit policies for Shenzhen permanent residents will continue to exert a negative effect.

To cope with the situation, the Hong Kong government has adjusted its strategy to focus more on diversification and attracting high-yield overnight visitors, such as promoting visitor arrivals for meetings, incentive travel, conventions and exhibitions (MICE), hosting major events like marathon and dragon boat carnivals, and attracting cruise tourism.

"Such measures by the government are wise and will play a positive role in drawing more international visitors, offsetting the loss in the number of mainland visitors," said Jason Wong Chun-tat, chairman of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.

Last year, the number of overnight MICE visitor arrivals surged 9.9 percent over the previous year's figure.

Wong said the government's decision to provide funding support for training professionals in the tourism sector is also encouraging.

Song Haiyan, associate dean (research) and chair professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, welcomed the steps to boost local tourism, but pointed out that greater concrete efforts should be taken to improve the experience of tourists and lift the city's attractiveness, thereby boosting the industry fundamentally.

Unlike many other popular tourist destinations, Hong Kong does not provide wide Wi-Fi access to tourists, he noted.

"It's, therefore, important to improve the infrastructure so that visitors can get Wi-Fi services easily," Song said.

"Hong Kong's tourist attractions also need to provide more information for visitors, such as giving introductions to their backgrounds. Although it's not difficult technically, it needs strong coordination among government departments," he said.

Big nod for HK$380m tourism lift

(HK Edition 02/23/2017 page3)