Press Release



Speech by Commissioner for Tourism (English only)


Following is the speech by the Commissioner for Tourism, Mr Mike Rowse, at the International Conference on Heritage and Tourism - The Economic Values of Heritage tourism in Hong Kong today (Wednesday):

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

Congratulations to everyone taking part in this conference. And from the tourism perspective, a particularly warm welcome to all our visitors from out of town.

This conference has come at an opportune moment for the Tourism Commission. I was appointed as Hong Kong's first Commissioner for Tourism just seven months ago. One of the first priorities was the appointment of a Tourism Strategy Group to help set out a clear vision and strategy for tourism development. I am happy to say that we were astute enough to approach Professor Lung, and lucky enough to obtain his consent to be a member. So right from the outset we recognised the link between heritage and tourism.

As the first public officer tasked specifically to provide a focus for tourism development, pulling together the hitherto diverse interests in the industry, I have been fascinated at the amount of interest and the level of concern in matters that concern the tourism industry. And not just from the industry players themselves, but from people in all walks of life. Green groups have called for more to be done to preserve our environment and to promote the green side of Hong Kong life. Those interested in cultural activities and the performing arts have also come forward to stress the potential in these areas.

One message, which has been particularly loud and clear, is that we in Hong Kong have a lot more scope for exploiting our unique cultural heritage in further developing our attractiveness to visitors. This conference provides a useful opportunity for us both to take stock of what we have and where we stand, as well as to share the experience of other jurisdictions.

Before I set out my thoughts about heritage tourism in Hong Kong, I would like to give a brief overview of the tourism industry.

Tourism Industry in Hong Kong

Since the Second World War, the Hong Kong economy has undergone a series of structural changes. It has gradually developed into one which is largely serviced-based. The tourism industry has always maintained an important position in the Hong Kong economy with the foreign exchange earnings that it brings. Indeed, the industry has experienced long periods of growth. For decades, the "Pearl of the Orient" appears to have been a natural attraction to visitors from the West, in particular as the story of Suzie Wong and the legacy of superstars like Bruce Lee captured the curiosity of many who would like to have a first hand experience of the mysteries of this city. We also had a reputation as a Shoppers' Paradise in the 1970s and 1980s. In the period up to 1996, visitor arrivals recorded double-digit growth each year for over a decade. At its peak in 1996, the industry accounted for 7.6% of Gross Domestic Product, employing directly and indirectly around 330,000 Hong Kong people.

Then came 1997 when we suffered a double blow; the Asian economic crisis reduced the level of regional travel; and the political transition meant we lost our allure as the last major historical anomaly.

In the last two years, the numbers have started to come back. And there is no doubt that the tourism industry will continue to play an important part in our economy. However, as many developing countries, including our next-door neighbours, begin to appreciate the useful role which tourism plays in stimulating and sustaining economic development, we can no longer take our past success for granted. It is necessary therefore to do much more to preserve and indeed further our position as a leading destination in the region.

Strategy for promoting tourism in Hong Kong

The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has adopted a three-pronged strategy to meet these challenges, namely -

* To provide easy access for visitors to come here;

* To enhance attractiveness by facilitating the development of tourism products; and

* To promote Hong Kong as an attractive tourist destination.

Where visitors' entry is concerned, Hong Kong has a very liberal visa regime. Residents of over 170 countries can come here visa free for between 7 days to 6 months. We have also devised schemes to facilitate visitors from the Mainland of China, Taiwan and Russia over the past 2 years.

As regards development of tourism products, we have embarked on a range of initiatives in areas including leisure tourism, eco-tourism, heritage tourism, and events tourism. These initiatives have focused both on introducing new attractions and improving existing ones, with attention to both hardware and software. Hardware like the Disney theme park planned to open by 2005, improvements at the Ocean Park, an International Wetland Park, a new cable car system on Lantau Island, and a new Fisherman's Wharf in Aberdeen will significantly broaden our horizons by strengthening our appeal to various visitors. Initiatives on the software side include the introduction of an International Events Fund to help attract events of international standing to Hong Kong. I should also mention efforts to promote better service quality to complement improvements in physical attractions.

Finally on marketing, the Hong Kong Tourist Association is the marketing arm for our tourism industry. It has been tasked to step up promotions in key destinations. The "City of Life" campaign was launched in 1997, and was designed to show to our overseas markets the vibrance and diversity of experience that this city offers. As the next speaker is from the HKTA, I shall not say more here.

Heritage Tourism in Hong Kong

Heritage tourism became recognized as an important component of international tourism in the 1980s. The World Tourism Organisation has defined cultural heritage tourism in broad terms as "covering all aspects of travel whereby people learn about each other's way of life and thought". On this basis, heritage tourism may be understood as involving facilities, activities and services which provide visitors with the opportunity to experience, understand and enjoy the basic threads of the history, value, people's lifestyle of a place.

Hong Kong is not a place where people expect to see internationally renowned monuments like the Great Wall. However, it is a place full of contrasts, diversity and dynamism. We have inherited 6,000 years of human civilization, where customs and culture of a traditional Chinese society still influence the life of a good number of people, and yet the 150 years of British administration have seen the influence of Western culture firmly entrenched in the development of the society, the life style of its people, and the architecture of buildings, etc. Hong Kong is the place where we see the fusion of the East and the West, and the traditional blending with the modern.

In his 1998 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced the establishment of a Heritage Tourism Task Force comprising experts in the field to do more to promote our heritage for tourism development. Indeed, as a commercially oriented society, Hong Kong has always faced a difficult task of balancing the potential conflicts between heritage preservation and developments which make commercial and economic sense. The development of cultural heritage tourism appears to offer an opportunity for addressing this dilemma.

I would like to set out my thoughts about the promotion and development of heritage tourism in Hong Kong with Five "P"s, namely -

* Preservation

* Planning

* Packaging

* Promotion

* Partnership


Preservation has always been a difficult issue in the light of the dilemma between conserving sites, buildings and structures with historical or architectural value and the need to make way for developments which appear to make better economic sense when this is narrowly defined.

Over the years, the role of heritage conservation in Hong Kong has been taken on by the Antiquities Advisory Board, established in 1976, to advise the Secretary for Home Affairs on whether or not any place, building site or structure should be protected. The Board is given statutory backing by the Antiquities and Monument Ordinance and has afforded legal protection to 67 monuments all over the territory.

Preservation of physical structures arguably is a more straightforward business as it is provided backing by statute. A more complicated yet challenging issue is how matters which could not be prescribed by law could be preserved and carried forward. Customs and traditional festival celebrations, such as the Bun Festival at Cheung Chau and processions which take place during Tin Hau Festivals, and unique attractions such as places like Bird Street and Temple Street, which have evolved as a natural process over the years, are two cases in point. These involve complex issues such as environment, traffic, development need of society, public order and the changing life style and interests of the local people, and are real challenges to all.


Despite its undoubted value for enriching the quality of life of our people and the experience of our visitors, heritage preservation in itself is a passive process. It would be more effective if the planning process could provide incentive to encourage priority to be accorded to this area such that it does not become a hobby only for those with an interest.

There is room for economic returns to be brought into the rehabilitation and use of heritage sites and buildings, on the one hand preserving their unique character, and on the other bringing economic incentive for so doing. Covent Garden in the UK, the South Street Seaport District in New York and some in Singapore. In Hong Kong, we plan to experiment on this concept with the former Marine Police Headquarters at Tsimshatsui, by inviting the private sector to provide a commercial solution to the project which will include elements liked themed commercial projects and cultural activities. We hope this could be a model for future reference.

There is also room for incorporating elements of heritage preservation in the process of urban renewal. This is one of the tasks proposed for the future Urban Renewal Authority and should provide a better guarantee that the process of redevelopment in itself is not necessarily incompatible with heritage preservation.

Packaging and Promotion

Marketing and promoting are indispensable elements for ensuring success in the tourism business. Successful marketing has to be based on good products. Preservation and planning of heritage attractions and products are key components of the development of cultural heritage tourism. Equally important is how these are packaged for marketing promotion.

The wealth of historic sites, buildings, museums, and festivals which Hong Kong possesses need to be systemmatically packaged, to enable these to be marketed to visitors. This is an area where concerted efforts of the Government, the Heritage Tourism Task Force, the Antiquities Advisory Board and the Hong Kong Tourism Association come in. Initiatives such as the Central and Western Heritage Trail have enabled buildings with unique architectural value, and sites which manifest the history of the colonial past of the territory, to be showcased to visitors; heritage trails in the New Territories present life and customs of the traditional Chinese villages. More opportunities should be available as we gather more experience in the field of heritage tourism.


What I presented in the foregoing leads to a logical conclusion that cultural heritage tourism is a matter of a "partnership" -

* for the Government which provides the legal and administrative framework supporting heritage preservation, and provides stimulus and incentives for developing heritage sites into commercially viable uses;

* for the Antiquities Advisory Board which plays the key role in heritage preservation and education;

* for the Hong Kong Tourism Association which provides support in the packaging of our cultural heritage products and which has the main responsibility for tourism promotion overseas;

* for the businesses and the people of Hong Kong who provide the environment to sustain our unique cultural heritage; and

* in due course the Urban Renewal Authority which will play a useful role in promoting the synergy of heritage preservation and development.

Such partnership provides the framework within which heritage preservation, planning, packaging and promotion work to create a favourable environment for a sustainable development of cultural heritage tourism in Hong Kong, and to enable us to maintain our unique attraction to visitors as competition in the tourism industry intensifies.

Tourism is an industry which concerns a broad range of economic activities and hence business interests. It also cuts across the portfolios of many policy areas in Government. The Tourism Commission which was set up to provide a focus for tourism development is poised to play the role of the coordinator to make this partnership in promoting cultural heritage tourism work.

Perhaps the best gift Tourism can bring to Heritage in Hong Kong is this bureaucratic example. Make it the sole or main task of a single senior official. In a bureaucracy, general problems tend to receive only rank and file solutions. You need to put a General in charge.

Thank you.

End/Wednesday, December 15, 1999