A case for high-end tourism

Updated: 2016-01-20 05:17

(HK Edition)

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Much has been said about the need for Hong Kong to diversify inbound tourism. Hopefully, the latest signs indicating a decline in, and suggesting gloomier prospects for, this industry will contribute to building a consensus in the community, particularly among industry players and other stakeholders. Without a consensus, government initiatives to put the idea of diversification into action will most likely meet with obstacles, or will even fail.

The city's retail sales last year are believed to have declined the most in more than a decade. The Hong Kong Retail Management Association recently predicted a full-year figure for 2015 with retail sales falling at least 3 percent. This is much worse than the 2.3 percent decline in 2003, when the city was hit by the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The dismal performance of the retail sector is attributed to lower tourist spending - particularly from mainland visitors. Economic factors, such as slower economic growth in the mainland and a weakening renminbi, have discouraged many mainland residents from visiting and launching shopping sprees in Hong Kong, taking a toll on tourism and retail sales.

The lack of new attractions in the city has also dampened the enthusiasm of many high-end mainland tourists, who are now keener on looking for unique cultural experiences rather than mere shopping pleasures. The latest survey by investment bank CLSA, which shows outbound mainland travelers prefer South Korea, Japan, Thailand and the US over Hong Kong as their most favored destinations in the next three years, does not bode well for the outlook of Hong Kong's tourism industry and retail sector. This could only make it all the more important for the city to accelerate its efforts to diversify its tourism attractions.

High-end tourism ought to be where more effort should be put in. Aside from organizing more convention and exhibition events to promote business travel, Hong Kong should also set its sights on eco-tourism and cultural tourism. With its enviably beautiful country parks, outlying islands, the Geopark and scenic hiking trails as well as the expected completion of the HK$4.1 billion East Kowloon Cultural Centre in 2020, great potential can be tapped from such endeavors.

Medical tourism, or health tourism, is another possible area for development. For that matter, Thailand and South Korea offer good examples - with their great success in this aspect - for Hong Kong to emulate. Thailand has become the home of medical tourism with millions of overseas travelers visiting the kingdom for medical treatment every year; and South Korea is now touted as the cosmetic surgery hub of Asia.

Hong Kong does not lack the talents or resources necessary for developing high-end tourism. What it always lacks is concerted efforts that are necessary for anything to be done. In this sense, all Hong Kong needs is a consensus in its efforts to diversify its tourism.

(HK Edition 01/20/2016 page9)