Antony Yiu
Mar 23, 2023

Reviving Hong Kong tourism, the experiential way this time

A flashy Hello Hong Kong campaign alone will not reboot tourism; consistent storytelling and personalised, embedded travel experiences are required to lure back tourists, writes PHD's Antony Yiu.

A still from the HK government's #HelloHongKong campaign. The SAR's tourism revival plan is estimated to cost the exchequer an estimated HK$100 million (US$12.8 million), according to the Tourism Board.
A still from the HK government's #HelloHongKong campaign. The SAR's tourism revival plan is estimated to cost the exchequer an estimated HK$100 million (US$12.8 million), according to the Tourism Board.

With the axing of the mask law on March 1, 2023, Hong Kong has enjoyed a boom of inbound tourists from mainland China and overseas. According to the latest tourist inbound figures from March 18, over 102,000 inbound tourists from the mainland and almost 20,000 overseas visitors are coming to Hong Kong daily, recording the highest figure since the cross-border restrictions were lifted on February 6, 2023.

The ‘Hello Hong Kong’ campaign, launched on February 2, 2023 received a mixed response and some backlash from the public. Some comments on the internet found the initial launch video to be too traditional and even commented on SCMP that the spot“feels like travelling back in time to how the advertising world would present the city 20 years ago: mostly well executed, with nice images but often with little content, ideas or creativity.”

I cannot concur with popular opinion. Yes, it is true that with Covid looming over us for over three years, people’s perceptions and tastes have changed. However, instead of building something new for inbound tourists, we risk losing what Hong Kong has had if we project a completely new image of what Hong Kong offers.  There needs to be a storytelling process when we communicate to overseas tourists, jolting their memories of what Hong Kong had before jumping to the next stage to promote our arts and culture and major entertainment and sports events. Otherwise, the sudden change of direction would create cognitive dissonance with the audience.

Re-building brand Hong Kong: The role of experiential tourism 

 With the launch of the Hello Hong Kong campaign and the subsequent events like the return of the Clockenflap, HKT x WestK Popfest, and the much-awaited Rugby Sevens, it gradually helps build on what Hong Kong traditionally has to offer – fantastic experiences in dining and shopping – and elevate it to the next level.  To improve the GDP of Hong Kong through tourism this year, the SAR needs to work collaboratively with various key stakeholders, like the hotels, theme parks, MICE and exhibition organisers, and the West Kowloon District.

Gone are the days we rely on same-day visitors to boost retail and sales; Hong Kong should be positioned as the destination for various all kinds of travellers. The city has the hardware ready to attract tourists for different needs. But we must build a consistent story across various private and government stakeholders.  A synergy effect is needed to link the data that Hong Kong Tourism Board and Hong Kong Trade Development Council have with all hotels, theme parks, shopping malls, and tourist attractions.

This approach will allow the government to create individualised storytelling for each potential inbound tourist and link them directly to various stakeholders to drive the revenue home.  From our observations, hotel occupancies are hovering at 70%, and their rate has increased 20-40% compared to the Covid. So what should we do to further show them what Hong Kong has to offer based on their interests?  

Experiential tourism is increasingly popular these days. People want to embed and experience the culture with locals. So we need to help complete the tourist consumer cycle in Hong Kong by joining the efforts, budget, and, most importantly, data across all tourism stakeholders and government bodies.

Seeing my hospitality clients trying so hard to drive MICE and conference bookings hurts me. The Hong Kong Trade Development Board and Hong Kong Tourism Board are doing a lot of awareness campaigns, both locally and overseas. Now it is time to plug the gap to help the deliverers, be it the hotels, malls, event organizers, theme parks, tourist attractions, museums and even Hong Kong Arts Festival to link all the dots together.  The budget and power of each unit are limited, but the combined strength and data is significant and will be very fruitful in bringing the end goal home – to increase the quality of inbound overnight tourists and their spending in Hong Kong.

Targeting the individual

Nowadays, people are scattered via various online and social media channels and even in groups in discord. We need to embrace this and use the data collected through various CRM databases to help truly develop an individualized experience for every newcomer. Mass branding campaigns are still very effective, but we should build a follow-up story to bring the end goal home of increasing inbound visitors and the tourism contribution to GDP.  

The success of the award-winning Swedish campaign by the Sweden Tourism Board was launched back in 2017.  It transcends beyond paid media and garnered global coverage with tons of earned media for the Sweden Tourist Association. The success is reflected in the significant growth expenditure of international tourists in Sweden, as shown below.

Lastly, given the central government's strategic direction of GBA expansion and the recent visits between the Hong Kong and Macao Chief Executives, Hong Kong is well positioned to be the core of the entire GBA tourism — a stepping stone to bring people to Macao and vice versa.  

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