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    HK to gain from mainland travel spur
(HK Edition, ALFONS CHAN,China Daily staff)

"Chinese mainland outbound travel is poised to grow 18 per cent year-on-year," says Ho Pui Ying.

She has many reasons for being enthusiastic as general manager of sales and marketing at Adsale Exhibition Services.

Her company is the organizer of the 17th International Travel Expo Hong Kong (ITE), one of the largest travel-related trade fairs in Asia.

And Chinese travel agents say Hong Kong remains one of the top destinations for mainland travellers while fewer of them will go to traditionally preferred Southeast Asian countries, she adds.

For these reasons, Ho expects the recent boom in mainland outbound travel to further benefit tourism in Hong Kong.

Key mainland outbound tour operators will visit the four-day travel fair, bringing substantial business opportunities to the annual fair.

The signing of CEPA and the influx of mainland tourists have generated a greater demand for exhibitors and trade visitors after the SARS outbreak, with the majority of exhibition space reserved two months before the event.

The international travel exhibition opens today amidst a post-SARS revival in the Hong Kong travel industry, accelerated by the relaxation of travel restrictions for mainland travellers.

The show is attracting a number of new participants from the travel trade sector including the National Tourism Organization (NTO) of Kenya and American Airlines.

The exhibition is expected to create significant trade opportunities for the travel industry after the setback of SARS, with emphasis on promoting Hong Kong as a travel hub in Asia, says Ho.

"This year's event continues to promote Hong Kong as a centre of travel and communication, while more emphasis is placed on mainland outbound travel - an irresistible market to tour operators worldwide," she says.

A staunch advocate of the local travel trade, Ho displayed confidence and an infectious enthusiasm for the industry as she discussed, during the interview, a new focus at this year's much anticipated travel exhibition.

"The rapid growth of mainland outbound travellers has further strengthened the ITE, with over 200 outbound tour operators confirmed to visit the show," says Ho. "This year we staged the first ever Mainland Outbound Seminar since 1998, with full support from mainland tour operators."

"Located within the vicinity of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta, outbound travellers from Guangdong Province already outnumbered inbound visitors to the territory last year.

"Travellers from the mainland are demanding more short-haul trips and semi-group tours after SARS, and there is a growing interest in health-related tours," which is expected to play an important role in mainland outbound travel, according to Ho.

She was confident that the high-spending power of mainland travellers will also contribute to the growth of the mainland outbound market.

"The average spending per trip of mainland travellers to Hong Kong is higher than in any other market in the country," Ho says, "and outbound travel in the coming Chinese New Year is expected to generate a lucrative market as it is customary for mainlanders to spend more money during festivities."

Her eyes beamed as she began describing new travel attractions and promotional activities of the fair, which are aimed at providing new travel ideas and destinations for operators and travel enthusiasts alike.

To take the lead, Macao has organized promotional activities including the Macao Grand Prix Golden Jubilee Carnival and the Macao International Fireworks Display Contest in the coming months. The exhibition will display a trio of race cars under the theme, providing a focal point for upcoming travel specials in the region, she says.

Ho says the Republic of Kenya will attract more tourist interest by enhancing its accessibility to travellers. With overwhelming response to the first flight from Hong Kong to Nairobi this month, more convenient transport to the country by the newly launched Asian flights of Kenya Airways will be a focus in the event.

She added that Dubai, as a travel hotspot in the Middle East, is bringing new surprises to the ITE this year. It will introduce the Arabian Ranches desert golf course to visitors, which combines a desert culture with international golf facilities.

According to Ho, this year's fair will incorporate a number of travel forums and seminars to offer important insights about the future of the tourism trade.

"Industry experts will exchange ideas on a number of new trends, including an in-depth discussion on opportunities and challenges in the future as more individual tourists from the mainland enter the outbound market."

Ho said the forum will discuss the dilemma posed by the surge of mainland tourists, which has created a small boom in the travel sector while also exposing a number of problems.

"Spa and health-related travel have also become increasingly popular. To tap the greatest benefit from these new interests in the market, a forum dedicated to the trends will be held at the ITE."

"At the same time, special seminars have been planned to discuss more convenient and modern modes of travel for corporate travellers, highlighting new business travel arrangements and Internet travel bookings."

The ITE recorded a 30 per cent rise in exhibitor numbers this year with about 600 participants from more than 90 countries and regions.

"The increase in exhibitor numbers this year will attract more trade visitors, while the long-awaited exhibition is expected to generate greater demand from the travel trade sector in the post-SARS period," Ho says.

(HK Edition 09/25/2003 page7)

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