In the midst of a pandemic, tourism seems like a remote concept. Yet as 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, it is a year in which the city can share its cultural assets with the world and reignite the global passion for tourism – particularly cultural tourism – by allowing people to experience Hong Kong from afar using digital technology.
The opening of the M+ museum in West Kowloon Cultural District last November sent a statement that Hong Kong is ready to showcase its dynamic and diverse culture in new ways. The soon-to-open Hong Kong Palace Museum and the timely creation of a culture, sports and tourism bureau – all following the city’s best-ever performance at the Tokyo Olympics – have set the scene for 2022 to be a year of cultural tourism.
According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, in cultural tourism a visitor seeks “to learn, discover, experience and consume the tangible and intangible cultural attractions or products in a tourism destination”. These can encompass a wide range of fields from arts and architecture and culinary heritage, to value systems, beliefs and traditions.
Hong Kong’s metropolitan lifestyle and East-meets-West social fabric remains globally unique. Country parks, Chinese temples, seafood markets, dense city life and world-class entertainment infrastructure are all within an hour’s reach from one another. The West Kowloon Cultural District, a vibrant hub featuring local and international musical and artistic talent, has raised the city’s cultural profile further.
The outlook is promising, but we must also look beyond infrastructure and events. In the digital age, we need to be savvy in promoting cultural content to make our strengths known to the world.
As the global popularity of K-pop and K-dramas has shown, the economic rewards of creating successful cultural content in today’s digitally-wired world are exponential. As Hong Kong’s new culture bureau charts a path for the future of cultural tourism in the city, we need to be precise about the kind of value we aspire to create.
Despite being a small city of only seven million people, Hong Kong has been an exporter of Cantonese culture for decades, from kung fu films to pop music to soap operas. In terms of business and commerce, Hong Kong is a world-class hub of innovation and communication, housing many global firms.
The aim of cultural tourism, then, is to make such local content part of the global mainstream, creating new trends and influential works that transcend borders.
It is about discovering local talent that reflects Hong Kong’s culture and launching that talent abroad through partnerships with world-leading production houses and entertainment platforms. Such talent development helps to create a self-sustaining industry that young people can see their future in.
The US has long led the global entertainment industry, but today South Korea – a nation whose language is not spoken globally – is quickly catching up, while the mainland has also made a name for itself with world-class productions that make use of the latest innovations and international expertise.
Thanks to its connections to both the Greater Bay Area and the world, Hong Kong, too, is well-positioned to influence global culture.
Cultural tourism can also take place in virtual spaces. Amid pandemic-driven restrictions on travel and the ongoing digital transformation of our daily lives, culture is now frequently consumed in a hybrid form or even purely online. Today, many consumer brands are looking into the metaverse, which might play a role in virtual tourism one day.
We could attend an online pizza-making lesson with an Italian celebrity chef and take a digitally-guided tour of a vineyard in the south of France in the morning; and go out with friends in Lan Kwai Fong to enjoy that same French wine in person in the evening.
Thanks to Hong Kong’s strong talent pool, sophisticated technological infrastructure, and strategic geographic location, the city can cultivate more of these hybrid experiences and set itself apart as a global leader of cultural tourism.
Eco-tourism is another space where Hong Kong can play an influential role. China is full of natural wonders, including ecological sites with international significance. In the nearby Guangdong province, visitors can search for dinosaur footprints and eggs in Heyuan or explore the mountains of Meizhou.
Hong Kong can help preserve and promote these cultural treasures by benchmarking the world’s best practices. This will help create economic opportunities that meet conservation and sustainability goals and bring about social benefits.
Halfway into my journey as a member of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, I am thrilled to see Hong Kong’s cultural landscape looking so promising in 2022. Even as a fifth wave of Covid-19 hits us, I remain optimistic that the city will flourish in the long run.
A United Nations report released last year projected a rebound of the travel sector in 2023. The tourism industry at large should therefore use this time of low activity to prepare for future demand, starting with investment in our talent – the energy that fuels innovation and creates new possibilities for the sector.
Culture and tourism policies should aim to create hope and excitement with new outlets of enjoyment. Ideas and experiences that encourage curiosity and learning should be at the heart of our city, be they a film by the next Stephen Chow or a seafood meal on a local fishing boat.
Such experiences can help to heal many coronavirus-battered souls, provided we know how to promote and make the most of our cultural assets.