The Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble may have burst for now, but the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is forging ahead with a renewed
perspective and strategy in anticipation of the return of global travel.
“When borders reopen, the visitors we welcome back will also be different in fundamental ways. Since travelling will no longer be as simple as it once was, guests may stay longer, and look for more in-depth experiences and an authentic understanding of
the destination’s culture," said HKTB chair Pang Yiu-kai, speaking to travel industry leaders in aviation, hospitality and digital travel retailers at the 2021 Tourism Update last week.
Speaking alongside HKTB executive director Dane Cheng, Pang said the NTO's plan is to position Hong Kong’s re-emergence as a travel and MICE hub with a keen eye on the industry's quickly emerging new standards.
For Hong Kong’s travel and MICE sector
to navigate the new normal, Pang noted that digitisation, contactless facilities and virtual events — once thought to be a stop-gap measure — will become standard.
However, the MICE sector is expected to be among the slowest to recover. Business arrivals to Hong Kong were down 94% in 2020, and guest speaker Jennifer Cronin, Wharf Hotels president and Hong Kong Heritage Tourism Brands chair, predicted MICE events
would remain modesty scaled for at least the next year.
Nonetheless Cheng and the HKTB plan to support small trade groups in winning meeting and conference events and engage local ambassadors to lobby on behalf of Hong Kong as a MICE option. Cheng did not provide details on how the support would be given.
New digital marketing tools
Large-scale cross-border promotions such as the tailored 'Open House Hong Kong' series, which targets key regional markets, will kick into high gear once cross-border travel resumes, as will the existing '360 Hong Kong Moments' and interactive 'Superfans'
promotional spots, particularly in overseas markets.
Those will be part of HKTB’s efforts to “retell the Hong Kong story" and restore the city’s perception internationally. Cheng declined to elaborate on what the current perception is.
When visitors return, they can expect a more carefully curated look in Hong Kong that celebrates its heritage, nature and culture more than in the past, paired with a strong digital element — such as “seeing” historical cityscapes with an AR app.
The HKTB will be expanding its in-depth “Hong Kong Neighbourhoods” scheme to include the West Kowloon Cultural District in time to complement the opening of the M+ museum in late 2021.
Mega-events will restart with the inaugural Cyclothon across the HKZM Bridge in October, which will lay the groundwork for a pan-Greater Bay Area (GBA) version of the event in the future, as well as other hybrid events.
Vaccination key to recovery
Whatever the plan might be, local industry players in attendance at the conference agreed: any return to pre-pandemic travel levels would be dependent on wider vaccination in all jurisdictions.
“The sooner we are all vaccinated, the sooner mass international travel can resume,” said Pang.
But before any of that can happen, visitors need to arrive, and according to Simon Large, director of customer relationships at Cathay Pacific Airways, the airline industry will continue to struggle for several years.
Large said “fragile” bubbles are the first step towards a return to air travel, but warned such bubbles won’t survive without mass vaccination and herd immunity.
Looking at its major flight destinations, Cathay research suggests this could be achieved by the end of 2021 in Canada and the UK, and in Hong Kong, Japan, the US, the EU, Singapore and South Korea by Q1 2022. That could boost flights, which are currently
sitting at less than 4% of 2019 levels, but even if they resume, Large envisions a daunting passenger experience in the next three to six months.
"There will be a lot of pre-departure testing at the airport and on arrival, there will be lots of requirement and paperwork, and passengers will need to know this in advance to find the correct documentation. There will be long waiting times," he said.
“It’s going to be an arduous process."