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Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 22:28

HK must go the extra mile to spur tourism

By Sophie He
HK must go the extra mile to spur tourism
Hong Kong is urged to develop more tourism products relating to local sports, culture and events so that tourists will have a wider variety of attractions. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

Amid a sluggish economic outlook and shrinking tourist arrivals, the government’s HK$380-million pledge to lift the city’s ailing tourism sector may not be enough if the core issue is missed — putting Hong Kong as a friendly city back on the map.

Industry experts are convinced this can only be achieved through the efforts of each and every Hong Kong resident.

Revealing the short, medium and long-term package in his 2016-17 Budget on Wednesday to aid the flagging tourism trade, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the industry has had a challenging year in 2015, warning that the sector has entered a period of consolidation.

He said the tourism sector, which contributes 5 percent of Hong Kong’s gross domestic product, has run into stiff competition due to a weakening global economy, the devaluation of currencies by countries in the region, as well as the Chinese mainland easing travel restrictions.

The situation, Tsang said, has been compounded by a handful of Hong Kong people who have chosen to express their views and political demands with “irrational and uncivilized” tactics, such as hurling verbal abuse at visitors and kicking their suitcases.

Song Haiyan, associate dean (research) and chair professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the prime issue is to improve the city’s image, which has been damaged by some people who have been rude to tourists.

He told China Daily there’s actually not much the government can do to repair the damage inflicted. What can be done is a collective effort by all Hong Kong residents.

With slowed economic growth, he said, Hong Kong residents will be more aware of the importance of the tourism trade and reflect on their behavior spontaneously.

His views were echoed by Joseph Tung Yao-chung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, who said what Hong Kong must do is to treat tourists the way they deserve.

He pointed out that although Japan has not launched any new attractions in the past decade, yet the number of visitors to the country has continued to grow because it’s very clean, safe and, most importantly, Japanese people are very polite and treat visitors very well, and Hong Kong should learn from that.

“Hong Kong people are very smart. Once they realize the importance of the tourism industry, they will be more polite and treat tourists better, and I’m confident more tourists will come to Hong Kong to enjoy the city,” Tung said.

As part of the relief measures for the tourism sector, the government will waive the license fees for 1,800 travel agents, 2,000 hotels and guesthouses, and 27,000 restaurants and hawkers, as well as fees for restricted food permits, for one year, costing a total of HK$140 million.

Song said these short-term measures should be very helpful for tourism-related firms which have gone through a tough year as tourist numbers continue to decline.

He suggested that the government should also help the industry develop more tourism products relating to local sports, culture and events so that tourists will have a wider variety of attractions.

He welcomed the plan to develop tourism facilities at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and on Lantau Island in the long run as a very “good idea”.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) said on Wednesday 2015 had been a very difficult year for the local tourism industry, especially for travel agents, with many people on the verge of losing their jobs.

It hopes the government will launch further measures to encourage more tourists to come to Hong Kong as it’s the only way to help the industry.

HKTB Chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok welcomed the government’s pledge to grant an additional HK$200 million to the HKTB to promote the city.

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