Hong Kong uses soft power to lure international travellers back


The century-old ferry is one of the city’s oldest modes of transport. — Photos: LEESAN

The Cathay Pacific iron bird is spreading its wings high in the sky again. Inside the cabin, the distinct and crisp voice is heard over the intercom: “Hello, everyone. Welcome on board your flight CX ... bound for Hong Kong.”

What a nice “hello, everyone”. It made passengers feel so welcome and cosy, and closer to the flight attendants.

But I feel like this is part of a bigger marketing strategy to entice passengers to travel or visit more often. After all the lockdowns and travel bans, governments that are highly dependent on tourist dollars have been making changes and improvements to better meet the demands of today’s savvy traveller.

This means that the “ladies and gentlemen” greeting that flight attendants usually make on flights are now considered seem old-fashioned, cold and less intimate.

Also known as ‘silk-stocking milk tea’, Hong Kong-style milk tea is truly iconic.Also known as ‘silk-stocking milk tea’, Hong Kong-style milk tea is truly iconic.

As a matter of fact, Hong Kong is one of the few places that have been pushing hard to sell its “soft power” to the world post-lockdown. One of the first initiatives it launched to woo more foreign tourists was a flight ticket giveaway: In March, the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) purchased half a million air tickets from the territory’s three airline companies, and then gave them away to tourists for free around the world.

As expected, the tickets were fully claimed in a very short time.

Earlier this month, Cathay Pacific came out with a “Buy 1, Free 1” promotion to attract hundreds of thousands of independent travellers to flock into the territory for a holiday.

My Hong Kong media friend named Doreen said to me, “We did experience a period of loss, panic, uneasiness and helplessness, but fortunately we now get to emerge afresh. Hong Kong is back in full vibrancy again!”

The thing is, though, even with free or heavily discounted tickets, many aren’t too excited to travel to Hong Kong just yet. In the past, many tourists have complained about the poor attitude of Hong Kong’s service personnel. Will we really see some improvements now?

For example, if we were at a store and enquired about an item, would the impatient or hot-tempered salesperson yell at us and rudely ask whether we were serious about buying?

“Otherwise, just get lost and don’t mess up my business,” was what we would have had to face with in the past. Is this still happening now?

Sure enough, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is well aware of tourists’ concerns and is doing its best to make sure that everyone always feels welcome there. Authorities are proactively bringing industry players together to think of solutions to address these problems, improve Hong Kong’s tourist service quality, and help sell the territory to international tourists.

One of the efforts involves authorities teaming up with over 16,000 local businesses and offering a million “Hong Kong Goodies” or cash vouchers that can be redeemed at pubs, restaurants, hotels lounges, public transport, F&B outlets, retail shops and sightseeing spots all over Hong Kong. This gesture will not only help tourists save on their expenses but also increase their chances of returning for a second or third holiday.

Yen, who just came back from Hong Kong a week ago, said to me: “How weird. Hong Kong people are so much friendlier now ... even the waiter at the local cafe asked us things like, ‘Can I help you?’ and ‘Please come with me, so I can show you the way’.

“It was truly unbelievable and I just coudln’t get used to such a change!”

The ‘Ice Fire Polo Bun’ is a Hong Kong-style pineapple bun that is popular with locals and tourists.The ‘Ice Fire Polo Bun’ is a Hong Kong-style pineapple bun that is popular with locals and tourists.

Hopefully, Hong Kong will receive more compliments from visitors, so that more people will go there for a holiday.

Of course, HKTB has put in a lot more effort than this, and they are determined to make a change. They have collaborated with celebrities like of Aaron Kwok, Sammy Cheng and Kelly Chen to promote local culinary experiences, as well as luxury travel experiences.

I have also noticed that they have put in a lot of thought in selecting the sets for their promotional videos. Most of the attractions featured are new national-level tourist destinations that were recently completed, such as the Hong Kong Palace Museum and the M+ visual culture museum. Of course, the videos also incorporate some of my most favourite Hong Kong delicacies like the Hong Kong-style milk tea and wanton noodles ... mouth-watering stuff that will make you want to fly there right away!

During the recent Chinese May Day holiday, I noticed that Victoria Bay, a 2km causeway in Hong Kong, was almost completely covered by tourists. Most importantly, though, everyone was smiling. They must have felt extremely lucky to be able to enjoy an unforgettable vacation in Hong Kong.

In addition to all the initiatives, there’s also something called the “Happy Hong Kong Gourmet Marketplace”, which is held at a different place every month. This event allows tourists to savour all the best culinary treats Hong Kong has to offer, in under one roof.

When I saw this, I felt that the Hong Kong government must have put in a lot of effort, energy and resources to revitalise the territory’s post-lockdown tourism industry. But what about the profits? Have they raked in much? What is the return on investment?

The new M+ building is fast becoming one of Hong Kong’s top attractions for art.The new M+ building is fast becoming one of Hong Kong’s top attractions for art.

One thing I can be quite sure of is that the immigration officers at the airport have been doing their utmost best to speed up passport clearance. All those frontline officials are also putting on their best smiles to welcome all travellers arriving from around the world. First impression counts, as this signals a good start to a visitor’s travel experience in Hong Kong. And if you have a good experience, you tend to spend more!

We mustn’t think that such “petty” things are immaterial. When these visitors go back to their countries and reminisce their holidays, they will feel the warmth and the great hospitality they received from the people of Hong Kong. Good quality service trumps all the new amenities and attractions that came up post-lockdown. It is this soft power that will lead you back to the territory and say, “Hello, Hong Kong!”

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 137 countries, seven continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.

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leesan , hong kong , china , tourism , travellers , cathay pacific


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