Following is the speech by the Secretary for Economic Development and Labour, Mr Stephen Ip, at opening gala dinner of American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) World Travel Congress 2004 today (September 28) (English only):
Bev, Richard, Selina, distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, a very warm welcome to all of you, especially those who have come a long way from the United States. We are delighted that ASTA has chosen Hong Kong to host its 74th World Travel Congress. We will make sure that you will get the most out of this 6-day congress.
The tourism industry has encountered many challenges in recent years. Terrorist attacks and the outbreak of SARS had deterred many tourists from travelling. Good news is: the industry has revived quickly and there is good cooperation across all sectors of the travel industry. The ASTA Congress provides a good opportunity for the travel trade to meet and network, and to share ideas and experiences. By holding the conference in Hong Kong, you have an added advantage of seeing and experiencing for yourselves first-hand what Hong Kong has to offer you and your clients.
Hong Kong has always been one of the favourite tourist destinations in Asia. For many decades, we have been called "The Pearl of the Orient" and "Shopping Paradise". There are all kinds of retail outlets in Hong Kong, from open markets in Stanley, Hollywood Road, to world class shopping arcades in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. Hong Kong is also a place for gourmets as we have tens of thousands of good restaurants.
Apart from fascinating shopping and dining experiences, we are also doing a lot to enrich our tourism products. On family travel, Hong Kong Disneyland is scheduled to open next year. On eco-tourism, we are building Asia's largest man-made wetland park. We are also building a cable car system to take tourist to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.
Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between Hong Kong and the Mainland, Hong Kong companies are allowed to set up joint ventures with Mainland travel agents to operate inbound and domestic travel in the Mainland. This arrangement not only opens an avenue of cooperation between Hong Kong and Mainland companies, but also provides investment opportunities for overseas firms wanting a foothold in the Mainland market through Hong Kong. The Mainland market has enormous potential. According to the World Tourism Organization, China would have 130 million international visitors in 2020 while Hong Kong would have 56 million visitors.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish all of you participating in the 74th ASTA World Travel Congress a very successful and rewarding congress and I congratulate the organising committee on what I am sure will be a truly memorable and successful event.
Ends/Tuesday, September 28, 2004