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Hong Kong’s New Mantra: Live it! Love it!

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A whole new generation will know Hong Kong as one of the locations for The Dark Knight – the latest Batman epic to hit the big screen. Others will know the former British Territory for its contrasts - luxury sports cars fighting for street space with old women pushing handcarts on busy streets; rural splendours of awesome vistas, mountains and outlying islands nestling cheek by jowl with streets that never sleep; a unique combination of 150 years of colonial influence and 5,000 years of Chinese tradition.  Hong Kong is all of this and so much more.

But all is not good news in Asia’s self-styled World City. Visitor numbers are once again down – they fell 1.4% year-on-year in October to 2.53 million - as the world tightens its belt as a result of the economic downturn. A regional financial centre at the very crossroads of the world’s most dynamic economies and global markets, it can truly be said that money makes Hong Kong go round. So no one was that surprised to see sales of big name designer brands being sold off at discounts up to 90 per cent a full month before Christmas. Even a two day sale of Ferraris and Rolls Royces at up to 40 per cent discount failed to move more than 21 out of a stock of 150 cars.

Arrivals from Russia, however, increased 11%, while those arriving from New Zealand rose nearly 12%. But they declined by 15% from the Americas, 12% from Europe, Africa and the Middle East and 5% from South and South East Asia.

Yet, tourist arrivals in the January to October period rose 6% to 24.3 million compared with the corresponding period in the previous year, and with the Middle East making up only a tiny fraction – around  half a percent – of its visitors, Hong Kong has now appointed Dubai-based GAA-Marta Consulting as its official representative in the Middle East region. The appointment will enable the HKTB to further tap the Middle East market, which is identified as one of the most promising emerging visitor source markets for Hong Kong.

“We will strategically target family visitors and luxury leisure segments in the GCC,” explained James Tien, Chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, “and our promotion will anchor on Hong Kong’s core strengths in sightseeing and shopping as well as family-friendly attractions such as theme parks.”

In the past three years, arrivals from the Middle East have recorded exceptional growth, achieving an average escalation of nearly 25 per cent. According to surveys of the HKTB, per capita spending of the overnight Middle East tourists reached HK$6,444 (~US$830) in 2007, the fourth highest amongst all markets.

As well as concentrating on boosting visitors from the Middle East, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Regional Government (HKSARG) is enhancing Hong Kong's appeal as a centre of excellence for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) with the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Trade Development Council, and Exhibition and Convention Industry Association strengthening their collaboration and stepping up promotional efforts.

Every year Hong Kong hosts over 100 major exhibitions that attract some 800,000 international and Mainland visitors, and this Special Administrative Region has been rated the world's freest economy for the 14th consecutive year by the Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Its strategic location and the two-way flow of Mainland and international exhibitors and trade show visitors make Hong Kong a strategic platform for global business facilitation; and the HKTDC had just announced a US$15.5 million package to help bring in more international buyers to its trade fairs.

So the HKTB has launched a new 'Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong' (MEHK) office to promote Hong Kong overseas as a MICE destination and provide one-stop support for event organisers. The new body is a response to the government’s additional injection of US$19 million over the next five years to promote the convention and exhibition industry in Hong Kong.

MEHK plans to leverage on the development of mainland China and to ride on the Cathay Pacific/Dragonair merger to develop programmes that include Hong Kong and the mainland.

The new body will also aim to enhance service and product offerings for meeting and incentive organisers, and to identify and develop unique venues, such as museums, for corporate hospitality.

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