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FS's speech at Hong Kong Tourism Symposium 2001


Following is the full text of the speech (English only) by the Financial Secretary, Mr Antony Leung, at the Hong Kong Tourism Symposium 2001 "Challenges and Opportunities" today (November 3):

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Hong Kong Tourism Symposium 2001 jointly organized by the Tourism Commission and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

The tourism sector is of major and growing importance to Hong Kong. I am sure you are well aware of the basic facts: tourism receipts account for some 5% of GDP; there are over 300,000 people employed directly in the industry; tourist arrivals totaled 13 million last year. But, as Henry Clay once said, "Statistics are no substitute for judgement". The main purposes of our meeting today are to assess the state of tourism, to identify both the challenges facing the industry and the opportunities that undoubtedly exist. More importantly, we need to work together to devise ways to overcome the challenges while seizing the opportunities.

I think we all recognize that the terrorist attack on the United States on 11 September has changed things, not least the focus of our Tourism Industry. There is little doubt that the number of visitor arrivals from the United States and Europe has fallen significantly: arrivals from the USA in September declined by over 17%. Yet there are also signs that arrivals from other destinations have increased. The Hong Kong Tourism Board now forecasts that we will still attain similar level of visitor arrivals as last year.

It is true that with the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the view of the future is still not clear. However, one thing that is certain is that we have a chance to prepare ourselves now for whatever comes our way. In my view, we should at least pursue the following three areas:

* Enhancing the range of products on offer;

* Devising a focussed marketing strategy; and

* Improving our quality of service.

Enhancing the range of products on offer

Tourism is about showcasing our lifestyle, and the style of our city. We are Asia's World City, with a unique fusion of eastern and western culture and heritage. We are proud of the sophisticated metropolitan lifestyle that makes the place tick. But we should not overlook our well-protected and tranquil countryside. It is the multitude of activities that one can experience and enjoy within this very compact place that always fascinates our visitors. Coming from the private sector, I would say that Hong Kong has often sold itself short. The challenge and opportunity for us is how we can better promote ourselves, and to continue upgrading our city which will both improve our own quality of life and enhance Hong Kong as a product.

There have been proposals to develop more tourist attractions and to encourage the development of green tourism, capitalize on Hong Kong's historical and heritage resources and construct additional performance venues. These are resounding recommendations coming from a similar symposium in 1999, which I am sure many of you attended. All these proposals have been accepted and will be taken forward in the various projects that are in hand. In particular, these will be encompassed in the planning of the five tourism clusters announced by the Chief Executive in August this year. I do not intend to go over these again in details, but briefly they include development of -

(a) the Lantau Island, including the Hong Kong Disney Theme Park, into a major tourist attraction;

(b) green tourism, water sports and resort facilitates in Sai Kung;

(c) a cultural belt along the West Kowloon area;

(d) a heritage, cultural and dining area in Central; and

(e) a new Aberdeen tourism node, integrated with development of the Ocean Park.

In addition, as an eco-tourism initiative, we are building the Hong Kong Wetland Park in Tin Shui Wai. Its first phase is already open and has received over 60,000 visitors in the last six months. More attractions will be added in the coming few years.

Our visitors are very interested in places that have significant historical value and reflect the heritage of Hong Kong. We already have some good examples such as the Murray House in Stanley, the Old Post Office in Wan Chai, the Sun Yat San trail in Central, the Legislative Council Chamber, the walled villages in the New Territories and of course the history and heritage museums. To add to this range of attractions, we are working to have the former Marine Police Headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui for tourism use and exploring the potential of the Central Police Station Complex.

Staging events in Hong Kong is another way to showcase our lifestyle to our visitors. The importance of the Rugby Sevens and the various pop concerts is particularly recognized. There are other large-scale events by local and overseas groups. This is an area for close partnership between the public and private sectors. One example is the Hong Kong Tourism Board's two year-long celebration, "City of Life: Hong Kong Is It!" which with the support of many organizations and corporates will stage a diverse range of mega events.

I am always impressed with the range of cultural events that take place in Hong Kong. There is considerable potential here to turn this into a full programme of events which will appeal to tourists from the Mainland and farther afield. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department already sponsors over 3,000 such events each year. As we develop new venues, more local and international artists and performances can be staged. This is one area where the private sector, the artistic community and Government can work together.

We can also enhance the variety and attractiveness of our product by leveraging on neighbouring destinations. The development of multi-destination tourism with the Mainland and other partners is another approach which received considerable support during the last symposium. The Hong Kong Tourism Board is in partnership with Macau and Guangdong Province in the tripartite Pearl River Delta Tourism Marketing Organization, which aims to promote multi-destination tourism in the Pearl River Delta region. Itineraries are designed to link up tourist attractions in the three places. With the further opening up of the Mainland in the years ahead, this type of product clearly offers potential for growth.

Devising a focussed marketing strategy

While we identify and develop more interesting places and activities for our visitors, we also need to draw up corresponding marketing strategies to reach out to potential clients. At a time of changing market situations and increasing competition, we must set for ourselves most focussed and versatile marketing plans.

Mainland and Taiwan are our two most important source markets. Clearly, we need to develop attractions and packages, which will appeal to these visitors. In about four years' time, the Hong Kong Disneyland will be in operation, expecting to attract about 1 million additional visitors from the Mainland per year in the initial period. But between now and 2005, we should also develop other products and attractions which would increase the number of arrivals and encourage longer stays.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board has been reviewing their marketing plans for the near term, with more focus at Mainland China and Taiwan, redirecting resources and activities to exploit the full potential of these two markets. Furthermore, to leverage on the measures related to Mainland China visitors as proposed in the recent Policy Address, major Mainland trade representatives will be invited to Hong Kong to showcase tourism products and study business opportunities. As for Taiwan, a promotion programme is being developed to capitalize on the iPermit launch in Taiwan next year. Mainland China and Taiwan are definitely our two priority markets.

I should perhaps add that while refocusing our marketing strategies in the short run, we also keep a vigilant watch on the long haul markets and ensure that we maintain a balanced market structure and the international profile of our visitors.

I have spoken at length about our efforts to promote inbound tourism and to enhance the range of products available. It would be remiss of me not to mention one other important benefit from these efforts. Every new product, every new facility, every new job in the tourism industry benefits Hong Kong and Hong Kong people. We must not overlook the fact that tourists come to Hong Kong to experience a different culture and a different way of life as much as to see the attractions. They want to meet Hong Kong people: they want to go where Hong Kong people go. All of our attractions must therefore be attractive to our own populace before we can expect tourists to be interested in them. It is high time we gave due attention and consideration to developing local tourism as part and parcel of our tourism strategy. In this regard, the Tourism Board will work closely with the 18 District Councils to promote district attractions to Hong Kong people. We hope that our people will get to enjoy and appreciate them. I have also asked the Tourism Board and the Tourism Commission to work with the trade to identify what more can be done to promote local tourism.

Improving our quality of service

With more visitors coming in, the importance of the welcome they receive grows. The fact is that travelers are increasingly sophisticated. They demand higher and higher standards of service wherever they go. As China opens up and more of her citizens have the opportunity to travel they compare what we have to offer with cities in China and those in Europe, Australia and the U.S.A. We have some of the best hotels, the most fantastic restaurants, the most efficient Mass Transit System and the leading airport in the world. What we need to do now is to ring up the other parts of our industry to achieve the same high standards in all areas.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of the professionalism and integrity of our travel agents and tour guides. It often takes only one poor experience to ruin our hard-earned reputation. I have read reports of tour groups from China who have had very bad experience on their tour to Hong Kong. The depressing thing is that such instances are definitely not the norm, yet these few cases have already done considerable damage to our reputation. In the drive to provide quality assurance of service, we look to the Travel Industry Council and the Hong Kong Association of Registered Tour Coordinators (HARTCO) for their leadership.

The role of the Travel Industry Council will grow when the Travel Agents (Amendment) Bill 2001 is passed since all inbound travel agents will then be required to become members of the TIC. The Council is now drawing up the relevant Codes of Conduct/Practice and Directives, and reviewing its disciplinary mechanism in anticipation of this additional regulatory function.

A professional travel agent and tour guide will make a visitor's experience in Hong Kong more pleasant. It is thus essential that they receive the right type of training. Here, I must commend the effort and contribution of the HARTCO for having put 1100 tour guides through tailor-made training courses and offering refresher courses and updated information for their members.

To enhance the standards even further, TIC, HARTCO and other trade representatives are now designing a standard Tour Guides Training Course for serving tour guide, together with an examination system. Those who pass the examination will be awarded a certificate. In future only those who have passed these courses will be allowed to work as a tour guide. It is projected that in two years, following the implementation of the regulatory scheme for inbound travel agents, training and certification system of 2,000-3,000 serving tour guides will be completed. Training for new entrants to the trade will also have started so that the travel industry will have a pool of well-qualified tour guides. Our travel agents and tour guides recognize the need to set standards.

It is important that we engage every one in Hong Kong in making our city a truly hospitable destination. That is why we launched a two-year "Hospitable Hong Kong" Campaign early this year. I personally appointed some 160 well trained students to be our ambassadors in August. And we also make use of TV shows and educational kits to heighten public awareness of tourism and its importance to Hong Kong in terms of jobs and economic development. We hope that Hong Kong people will appreciate how important it is to welcome all visitors warmly and treat them like honoured guests.

I recognize that the economic restructuring process now underway is not easy for anyone, but it is essential to our long-term well being. Undoubtedly, the tourism industry will become even more important in the years ahead. We must give priority to the development of a workforce suitable for this industry.

To this end, the Tourism Commission and the Hong Kong Tourism Board will launch a Tourism Orientation Programme in a few months' time. This programme will provide work opportunities for graduates of basic tourism educational/vocational training programmes and offer them comprehensive on-the-job training. The idea is to station them at key tourist locations such as the airport and border points, as well as most frequented tourist attractions and points of service. They will help provide information and hospitality services, thereby enhancing the tourists' experience. This programme will nourish a cadre of trained personnel to serve the tourism industry thereby raising the overall service standard of the industry over time. The Tourism Commission and the Tourism Board will come to you for advice and help in providing placement opportunities. Again we look forward to your active support to make this programme a success.

Building Partnership

I wish to emphasize once again that the future of our tourism industry very much hinges on a partnership between the trade and the Government. I hope all of you will make full use of today's symposium to discuss and contribute ideas on how to make our tourism industry more prosperous than ever. As Napoleon once said "Ten persons who speak make more noise than 10,000 who are silent." I urge you all to speak out and contribute to the discussion during the breakout sessions this morning. But this symposium is only part of this partnership building process. With the many ideas that you would no doubt offer later, and hopefully filtering down to some priority and actionable areas, I am sure there will be much work ahead for all of us to make these happen.

Thank you.

End/Saturday, November 3, 2001


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