A number of new regulatory measures against shops with unscrupulous sales practices have drawn strong opposition from some tourism professionals.
The Travel Industry Council, Hong Kong’s tourism regulatory body, launched the measures after a series of incidents in which tourists were forced to do shopping at designated shops, particularly the case in which a mainland tourist died last October.
Amid China’s uncertain economic outlook, tourist arrivals marked the first drop since 2003 last year.
In his recent policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said total visitor arrivals in 2015 fell 2.5 percent from the previous year, to 59.32 million. This was mainly due to a decline in mainland tourists while those from Southeast Asia and long-haul markets showed gains.
The number of mainland visitors dropped 15.5 percent to 3.51 million in November from a year earlier.
Meanwhile, retail sales fell 7.8 percent in November, the ninth straight month of decline. No wonder, some described it as a “cold winter” for Hong Kong tourism.
The situation in the United Kingdom is totally different.
VisitBritain, the country’s tourism authority, forecasted the number of visitors to the UK will rise to 36.7 million this year, up 3.8 percent from 2015, while visitor spending will increase 4.2 percent to 22.9 billion pounds (US$32.9 billion).
In fact, the number of visitors to the UK saw a rapid growth from 30.8 million in 2011 to 35.4 million last year. Now, almost one in 10 jobs are in tourism-related industries.
In a bid to attract more big-spending Chinese travelers, Britain slashed launched the price of a two-year visa by almost 75 percent from 324 pounds to 85 pounds.
Under the two-year pilot scheme, successful applicants will be allowed to make multiple trips to the UK and stay up to six months at a time.
Chinese visitors enjoy shopping. A mall in the once quiet Bicester Village in Oxfordshire has become the second most popular place for Chinese tourists, next only to Buckingham Palace.
In the past five years, the British government has adopted various strategies to spread the benefits of tourism across different parts of the country and bring new life to run-down communities.
Between 2010 and 2015, VisitBritain has run a 100 million pound GREATBritain campaign to encourage international tourism.
“The themes of the campaign are: countryside, culture, heritage, creativity, entrepreneurs, green, innovation, knowledge, shopping, sport, music and technology,” according to a policy paper.
The campaign will showcase world-class universities, groundbreaking research, high-tech startups, creative industries and the beauty of landscapes. It is aimed not only at attracting visitors but also at encouraging people to do business and study in the UK.
GREATBritain described itself as the government’s most ambitious international promotional campaign.
Meanwhile, VisitEngland, the corporate body funded by the tourist authority, runs marketing campaigns to encourage people living in the UK to take their holidays in England.
In July 2015, the British government unveiled a five-point plan to drive tourists beyond London, as 54 percent of the money spent by international visitors is in London.
The plan stresses the need to support projects that will boost the country’s rail, air and road capacity, and help small businesses thrive.
The industry is also looking for ways to attract the brightest and retain apprentices, who are often lost because of the seasonal nature of tourism.
Although as a city, we can’t compare ourselves with a country like the UK, we have a lot of unique experiences to offer visitors aside from shopping.
Food trucks and new attractions such as an animation and comic-book theme park displaying cartoon characters created by local artists, as Leung proposed in his policy address, are not bad ideas.
Our accessible beaches, heritage buildings, stunning country trails, local food, vibrant art and creative industry are there for locals and tourists to appreciate.
Hong Kong doesn’t need an ambitious and fancy campaign like GREATBritain to boost the number of tourists.
But we must take a holistic approach to developing tourism so that our diversity is presented and the benefits are spread further beyond the retail sector and tourist districts.
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