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Friday, Sep 30, 2022

Hong Kong tourism must become more welcoming and sustainable to survive

Hong Kong tourism must become more welcoming and sustainable to survive

What has worked for Hong Kong in the past probably won’t succeed in a world that is supposed to be focused on climate change and sustainability. Rethinking how to promote the city and making visitors feel more welcome are essential to restoring Hong Kong’s battered reputation.

A damaged reputation takes years to rebuild. In the wrong hands, perhaps it can never be repaired. Hong Kong’s has taken a battering, being buffeted and torn by the winds of anti-Chinese sentiment in the West and tough anti-pandemic regulations that have made it unattractive to businesspeople and tourists alike.

Who knows when normal times will return but, when they do, authorities have some serious work to do.

I’m no public relations expert, but I know that what worked before has a slim chance in the future. Global inflation and Hong Kong’s connections to the US dollar make it unattractive as a shopping paradise. Theme parks are a stale concept.

All those tall buildings and concrete aren’t what anyone wants to see in a world that is supposed to be focused on climate change. We should be constructing, conserving and living smarter to keep rising temperatures in check. Don’t tell the world how backward we are with recycling, waste disposal, electric buses and trucks – it will laugh in our faces.

A scan of the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website gives an idea of the scale of what we’re up against. While I appreciate Covid-19 restrictions have made life difficult for tourism promoters – only in recent weeks has the industry been allowed to resume local tours – pushing hackneyed or run-down attractions simply isn’t enticing.

There are links to Central Market, Disneyland, the Star Ferry, The Peak, the Avenue of the Stars, the Symphony of Lights and “revitalised historic buildings”.

A recommended 60-hour tour seems less about enjoyment than making a quick buck and inducing fatigue. Day 1 is Lantau Big Buddha, Mong Kok flower market, Sham Shui Po Park, a series of street markets down to Temple Street in Jordan, then over to SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong on Hong Kong Island for the nightlife. Day 2 is Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, Star Ferry, Ocean Park and Stanley. Day 3 is The Peak and, I assume given the lack of further suggestions, shopping.

Encouraging tourists to spend is why we want them, but the attractions we are selling them haven’t changed for decades. Fortunately, more than two years of overseas travel restrictions have revealed a side of Hong Kong that we all knew was there but many of us never properly explored.

It’s the part of the city that comprises country parks, walking and hiking trails and steep steps up urban hillsides that have stunning views at the top.

There’s a link to hiking on the Tourism Board’s homepage, but it’s just one among dozens. It should instead be highlighting that and other green aspects of Hong Kong. So much greenery, beauty and tranquillity are a welcome respite from the concrete, traffic noise and diesel fumes.

But taking to nature for hours of hiking or simply to sit and enjoy also fits neatly in a world that demands we be more responsible about our surroundings. Reducing our global footprint is how we slow or stall the progress of climate change, and going on foot is a good way to achieve that goal.

But bringing back tourism in a sustainable way requires more than rethinking how better to promote Hong Kong. My son recently returned from Paris, and he and others I have spoken to confirmed they were made to feel less than welcome on arrival.

Granted, anti-pandemic measures are in effect and PCR testing is still required for all incoming passengers before they are sent to quarantine. I would not expect marching bands, balloons and immigration officers wearing party hats.

By all accounts, though, there is no happiness as people are herded off planes to a far end of the terminal building for testing or any effort to relieve their anxiety as they wait hours for results. With non-residents now able to travel to Hong Kong again, that unwelcoming vibe is the first priority to fix.


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