Tourism industry reinventing itself

Updated: 2015-10-23 09:11

By Peter Liang(HK Edition)

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Hong Kong's tourism industry has finally come to terms with the declining interest of mainland tourists in coming here to shop and be entertained.

Indeed, the increase in the number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong has been declining for many months. Their diminishing desire to spend money on shopping is obvious to even the most casual observer. It is evident in the downsizing or closing of many fashion boutiques, jewelry shops and drugstores which catered mainly to mainland customers.

Many retailers and hoteliers had been hoping things would change for the better after the end of the disruption caused by the "Occupy Central" movement late last year. They, together with the government, have mounted numerous marketing campaigns aimed at luring back mainland tourists.

But those campaigns, together with price discounts at shops and hotels, have produced limited results. Although the number of mainland visitors has remained high, tourism income is falling. Retailers in the busy commercial districts are taking a beating despite a general decrease in shop rentals.

A combination of factors is working against Hong Kong. Chief among these is rising competition from Japan and South Korea. These countries have become the destination of choice for more and more mainland tourists mainly because of the massive depreciation of the Japanese yen and the South Korean won against the renminbi. In contrast, the Hong Kong dollar has appreciated in tandem with the greenback against the RMB.

What is more, frequent demonstrations against parallel traders and occasional open hostility toward mainland tourists have given many potential visitors second thoughts about visiting Hong Kong. The death of a mainland tourist, allegedly after a beating by two tour guides over an argument outside a jewelry shop, obviously has not helped matters.

The situation apparently prompted Michael Li Hon-shing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, to urge a change in strategy by targeting other markets. In a radio talk show, Li said that the Hong Kong tourism industry is at a "crossroads". It has to make a decision on whether to continue relying on mainland visitors to fuel future growth.

His answer to that question was simple. "We should not put all our eggs in one basket," he said.

To be sure, the Hong Kong government has invested heavily in seminar and exhibition facilities to attract business travelers and exhibitors. But the results of such efforts were largely dwarfed by the flood of mainland visitors filling hotels and clogging streets. It is only now that the tourism industry realizes it needs to pay attention to business travelers.

Instead of relying on the government, the hoteliers and event organizers should take the initiative. They should promote Hong Kong's excellent facilities for their corporate clients around the world. There is so much more Hong Kong can offer to foreign visitors than just shopping and food.

(HK Edition 10/23/2015 page7)