Saving Face for Hong Kong Tourism
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most iconic tourism destinations. It attracts both leisure and business travellers. In 2018 just over 65 million people visited Hong Kong. Of those visitors 51 million came from mainland China and 14 million came from all over the world. Hong Kong has enjoyed an excellent reputation for the quality of its shopping, cuisine, accommodation, urban buzz and a mixture of natural and artifical attractions. Its mixture of Chinese and British heritage makes it an unique cultural experience.
I love Hong Kong enough to have visited it 10 times and it’s an experience that every traveller should have to visit one of the great crossroad destinations in the world.
In recent weeks, Hong Kong has attracted global headlines for all the wrong reasons. Demonstrations against proposed laws to extradite Hong Kong law breakers to the mainland have been met by massive demonstrations in opposition the proposed laws. Despite the Hong Kong legislature’s recent decision to suspend these proposals, the demonstrations have contuinued and some have led to violence. There is no doubt this is already having an impact on tourism. There is a growing feeling expressed by the international media that Hong Kong’s tourism safety is compromised. The government of Singapore has toughened its government travel advisory on travel to Hong Kong although most governments do not regard the political unreset as a threat to tourism.
However, a prolonged bout of political instability is never good for tourism and it certainly tarnishes the perception of Hong Kong as a safe destination. I recently checked out the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s web site and saw no mention of the demonstrations despite the fact thay make global headlines. There was a link from the site to the Hong Kong Police site (which did refer to the risks of demonstrations) but so far as the HKTB site is concerned its business as usual.
I have had a lot to do with Asia over the past 20 years and I understand that losing face should be avoided at all costs. However I see little value for the Hong Kong Tourism Board pretending that the demonstrations don’t exist and failing to advise visitors how to avoid them. By contrast, Thailand has done an effective job in keeping visitors and prospective visitors informed of travel safety issues when it has experienced episodes of civil unrest.
Personally, I believe that Hong Kong remains a safe destination for tourists. However, the HKTB owes the millions of visitors to Hong Kong a duty of care to advise them about how to make ther visit to Hong Kong safe and what locations and actions need to be avoided. Destinations gain face when their advice is trustworthy and reliable. They lose face when they are in denial.Postscript August 4th 2019 Since this article was originally written the political unrest in Hong Kong has escalated in both intensity and geographic spread. Demonstrations recently took place at the arrival hall at Hong Kong’s International airport and have spread to many popular tourist sites. While the unrest is not currently targeting tourists there is a risk that tourists could be inadvertantly caught up in clashes between demonstrators and police. Indications are the political unrest it is also impacting on tourism arrival numbers, retail spending and hotel accommodation. The one thing which has not changed is that the Hong Kong Tourism Board remains in apparent denial. To use a bad pun, “denial” is a very murkey river. The HKTB needs to address the obvious concerns of all its stakeholders including travel professionals, visitors and intending visitors on the safety situation that applies in Hong Kong.