Taking on the highs and lows of tourism
Hong Kong has always been a tourist magnet but a recent dip in visitor numbers indicates a need for Asia’s World City to polish up its act, according to the Tourism Board chief, Sophie He reports.
Peter Lam Kin-ngok, chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, believes it is time for them to step up their game and further promote the SAR to potential visitors, as the industry is facing challenges and difficulties now.
The Tourism Board, a government-subvented body, was founded on April 1, 2001, and its objective is to support the interests of Hong Kong’s tourism in its entirety.
The government announced in February 2013 the appointment of entertainment magnate Lam as chairman of the Tourism Board.
Prior to this, Lam — who is chairman and executive director of mega Chinese-language entertainment provider Media Asia Group Holdings Ltd — served on the tourism body’s board of directors for six years and as chairman of the organization’s Event and Product Committee since 2009.
Official data for recent months show that the tourism industry has been facing its most difficult time in the eight years or so, Lam pointed out, with visitor numbers posting year-on-year declines in June, July and September.
Lam admitted that Hong Kong is feeling the pressure from fierce competition from other tourist destinations due to the depreciation of various Asian currencies including the renminbi, while the Hong Kong dollar has become stronger thanks to its peg to the US greenback.
That has made tourists look at other options in Asia aside from Hong Kong, which means that the city’s advantage in the travel sector is fading.
“Most companies and business owners in Hong Kong are very concerned about the situation, as the recent data on visitor number as well as total retail sales are far from ideal,” Lam said.
“Which is why the Tourism Board needs to step up in the situation, to put more efforts into promoting Hong Kong.”
Lam said that despite the recent setbacks, Hong Kong is still a very attractive destination for tourists, both from the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world.
Hong Kong has great food and it is known as a shopping paradise as it is tax free, a fact that is already front and center in travelers’ minds.
The first-ever “Hong Kong Cyclothon” on Oct 10-11, as well as the “Hong Kong Wine & Dine Month” and the Oct 22-25 “Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival” are all part of the tourism body’s efforts aimed at attracting travelers this autumn, said Lam.
It will be the largest “Wine and Dine” event in years, he said, as wine is always an important draw for Hong Kong to promote, since the city has zero alcohol tax, a very attractive proposition for wine connoisseurs.
Actually Hong Kong has already become the secondlargest red wine market in the world, he added.
“Let me paint you a picture — when you come to Hong Kong, you can buy a very good bottle of wine while enjoying almost any dishes you like, French or Chinese cuisine, your choice.”
As for the “Hong Kong Cyclothon”, Lam said this year’s competitors were able to cycle across the Tsing Ma Bridge for the first time and compete while enjoying the stunning views.
He also mentioned that when the Hong Kong-ZhuhaiMacao Bridge is complete, the Tourism Board will organize a cyclothon where competitors will ride from Hong Kong to Zhuhai across the bridge and then to Macao and back to Hong Kong, which will be a world-class event.
“We will continue to work on new things, new projects to maintain our attractiveness to tourists,” said Lam.
“And hopefully October will be better as aside from the National Day Golden Week holiday, there will be these great events, and we can make a turnaround in the month.”
Lam has extensive experience in the commercial sector. Apart from his role in Media Asia, he is currently chairman of Lai Sun Group, deputy chairman of Lai Sun Garment (International) Ltd, executive director of Crocodile Garments Ltd and director of the Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong.
He said his experience in the commercial sector helped him a lot in working with the board, it has given him a perspective on what companies need and what their concerns are.
It has also helped him realize
Although official data show that the industry contributes only about 4 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP, many other industries are connected with the tourism sector.
The tourism industry directly employs about 120,000 people, while the food and catering, retail and transportation sectors, as well as the airport, are all closely connected to it. This means that people connected to the tourism industry could total as much as 500,000 to 600,000.
Add in the families of these people, and it is clear the tourism sector has a significant impact on the city’s fortunes.
“I am so happy that I can be part of this industry, it means a lot to me,” Lam said.
He said he knows that many youngsters in Hong Kong are interested in joining the vibrant tourism industry someday, and his advice to these ambitious young people would be: Don’t be intimidated by the hard work and long hours.
“Working in this industry means you probably won’t have regular office hours, tourists won’t just arrive between 9:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening, they may come at any time of the day and they may have various demands, and it requires a lot of effort to please tourists.”
It is a very challenging industry for young people, but it is also very interesting.
“You will never forget the feeling when a tourist is leaving Hong Kong and he tells you he had a great time in Hong Kong, this kind of feeling of achievement — you don’t usually find it elsewhere.”
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