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Thursday, Jun 13, 2024

Hong Kong’s lame attempts to attract tourists and talent smack of desperation

Hong Kong’s lame attempts to attract tourists and talent smack of desperation

From the ‘Hello Hong Kong’ campaign’s free air tickets to the need to ‘grab’ talent from elsewhere, Hong Kong seems desperate – and that’s ugly. We must focus on why we are unique.

Soon after the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign to attract tourists was launched earlier this month, I started to receive scathing comments from my local and expatriate friends.

They were united in criticism of the mood and message of the promotional videos, calling them dated and predictable. Were they not so polite, I’m sure they would have added such adjectives as cheap, tacky, cheesy and unimaginative.  

Yet again, the government has enlisted local celebrities to help promote Hong Kong, when the main star should be the city itself, along with its people in all their cultural diversity, culinary richness and robust quirkiness.  

I doubt many potential tourists will be impressed by singers Aaron Kwok, Sammi Cheng and Kelly Chen prancing around various landmarks. For first-time visitors, these local celebrities mean little.

Aaron Kwok in a promotional video for the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign.

I don’t wish to diminish the achievements of these top local stars, but why does our government imagine foreign visitors would be enticed to visit the city by a video clip of this dancing, eating and jogging trio? We’re emerging from a three-year hiatus and our overarching message is: come to Hong Kong to shop, eat and jog. It’s all a bit lame.

Apparently, around 250 similar videos are planned, featuring ever more celebrities, influencers and business leaders. I sincerely hope the government intends to include some interesting local people in that mix, or else this all-out global promotional drive will fall flat, with blame for its poor execution lain at the feet of our officials.  

Hong Kong’s uniqueness lies in its diverse culture, and is best explained by allowing people to tell their own colourful stories of their home. Forget glitzy production values and overpackaged videos of unrealistic settings and dolled-up celebrities – tourists today crave authenticity.

Temple Street’s night market is one of Hong Kong’s busiest and would be a far more authentic way to attract people to the city.

Some visitors even enjoy reliving the more traditional aspects of life through tourism. We can provide that, as well as up-to-date entertainment venues, epicurean adventurism and visual stimulation, too.  

The welcoming slogan – “Hello Hong Kong” – is also extremely weird. Why are we greeting ourselves, when we should be welcoming the world?

If officials were looking for simple, snappy options they could have held a slogan competition inviting entries from secondary schools. I bet our students would have come up with better ideas: “Welcome to Hong Kong”, “Come Say Hello to Hong Kong”, “Welcome Back”, “Hong Kong Welcomes You”, or “We Miss You in Hong Kong”, spring to mind.

From the choice of celebrities, relevant only to a local audience, to an inward-looking slogan bidding “Hello” to ourselves, it would appear our officials are still in hiatus mode, or lack strategic thinking – or both.  

Two other factors have inadvertently cast a shadow over the image of Hong Kong.

First, the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign itself is giving away 700,000 airline tickets, spending vouchers and gifts to the tune of at least HK$100 million (US$12.7 million).

Secondly, the government recently announced ambitious measures to “grab talents, grab enterprises” in a bid to encourage high-skilled talent, and graduates from the world’s top universities, to move to the city.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee in a promotional video for the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign.

These drives, though positive in intent, unwittingly project an image of Hong Kong as being rather desperate: a place that has trouble attracting tourists, lacks talent and suffers a dearth of booming enterprises.

That these promotional projects have all come at once further risks our international image and leads to the opposite of the desired effect. Those considering visiting or moving to Hong Kong are probably left wondering what the city has to offer them, and whether it can provide the unique experience they are searching for.  

As I wrote in my previous column, we should set our standards high and aim to attract quality visitors, in both economic and cultural terms. To achieve this, we need to tell our own authentic stories. We shouldn’t be attempting to appeal to mass tourism demographics, the sort I fear ticket giveaways might just attract.

Traditional Cantonese dim sum would be a delicious way to attract people to Hong Kong.

We need to project a positive message to the world, one that builds ourselves up, rather than knocks us down. We must focus on what we can offer, and why we are unique, rather than advertise our weaknesses.

First and foremost, let’s avoid the appearance of being a beggar holding out a bowl, asking for help in tourism, investment and talent recruitment. Desperation is not attractive. 

When we recruit overseas talent, it should be clear that living and working in Hong Kong is the best choice a professional can make for their career.

Hong Kong is a one-of-a-kind international city, blessed with a unique history and populated by exceptional people who are both creative and resilient. Now is the time to show the world just how unbeatable and unstoppable this city really is.  

We should hold our heads high and tell the world: Hong Kong Is Ready to Welcome You (Back).  Wouldn’t this make a good slogan?


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