Local consumption and brand reinvention are the keys to the future of Hong Kong’s tourism sector, said Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) officials during a recent 3 March announcement that 75% of its HK$1.1 billion (US$141 million) 2021-22 budget would go towards supporting local tour operators and formulating new, long-term marketing strategies.
“In formulating our strategies for 2021/22, we focused on two major areas. We saw a need to offer support to the trade and boost the ambience in Hong Kong,” said HKTB executive director Dane Cheng.
Among the HKTB’s plans to stoke domestic consumption are considerations for resuscitating the moribund cruise sector. According to the HKTB, residents made up 48% of hotel occupants in December 2020, a number that could translate to the cruises under the right circumstances.
“The cruise lines are keen to see a reopening, both the terminal and operating on high seas cruises,” Cheng added. “We’re discussing it with the government, and we’re hoping to make [cruising into] another kind of staycation, but there are no details at this point yet.”
Genting Cruise Lines has already expressed interest in restarting cruising in Hong Kong.
Citing demand coming from Taiwan and Singapore, Genting Cruise Lines president Kent Zhu pointed to how “cruises can provide an alternative ‘staycation’ option for residents of Hong Kong, and may also help to reduce crowding at land-based attractions during the coming summer peak period".
Zhu estimates Genting could be ready to resume operations in a “couple of months” once government approves the plan. Genting has seven infection-free months under its belt with Dream Cruises’ Explorer Dream in Taiwan, and four with World Dream out of Singapore.
Ideally, the industry will be restarted in three stages, beginning with domestic cruises that travel within Hong Kong waters and perhaps just beyond. The HKTB expects promotions such as [email protected], which do not feature other ports of call, to be the first out to the gate, along with, “promotions on the new health and safety standards adopted by the cruise sector, to restore consumers’ confidence in cruise tourism before gradually promoting to the Mainland and international markets,” said Cheng.
“The experience we have gained and our close collaborations with local authorities to supplement our existing protocols with local guidelines have helped us develop a new norm of safe cruising,” echoed Zhu.
Genting’s initiatives in Taiwan and Singapore include pre-boarding tests, upgraded crew quarantine procedures, heightened hygiene practices for cabins, and fresh air to cabins and public spaces among others. Those will be duplicated in Hong Kong.
“As the only cruise line in Asia that has resumed operations in two cities, Genting Hong Kong would be committed in working with all relevant local authorities in Hong Kong in making further adjustments to accommodate local guidelines to ensure the safest environment for everyone upon resumption of cruises,” finished Zhu.
The second stage of a restart could include limited fly-cruise and rail-cruise co-ops in the Greater Bay Area, which was targeted for development as a tourism hub by a January Beijing edict.
“The HKTB will strengthen support to the cruise trade through enhancing subsidies from the Matching Fund to help the trade attract inbound visitors travelling on plane or train to join cruise tours,” added Cheng. International cruising has been targeted for the coming years as the third stage.
The HKTB’s other plans for 2022 include broadening its existing spend-and-redeem Holiday at Home local tour promotional packages, bringing the hotels sector into the mix by adding staycation packages, launching the Open House Hong Kong platform, featuring customised experiences for specific markets, and focusing on marketing in China — which HKTB's Cheng reasoned would be the first source market to rebound.
While the full resumption of travel within six months was unlikely, HKTB expects regional markets would be the first to open, and competition would be stiff. Cheng also noted the the board has earmarked resources for large-scale promotions designed to respond to that increased competition.