The Hong Kong shuffle

For years Hong Kong has acted as a hub for regional travel and trade, which mainly appealed to business travellers from the Middle East market. However, recent tourist developments and the launch of a promotional campaign to promote ‘2006 Discover Hong Kong Year’ are encouraging people to appreciate Hong Kong as a leisure destination.

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By  Joseph Mortimer Published  July 15, 2006

|~|Hong-Kong---large.gif|~|The The Hong Kong Shopping Festival, which runs from June 1 to August 31 this year, is a major international attraction.|~|For years Hong Kong has acted as a hub for regional travel and trade, which mainly appealed to business travellers from the Middle East market. However, recent tourist developments and the launch of a promotional campaign to promote ‘2006 Discover Hong Kong Year’ are encouraging people to appreciate Hong Kong as a leisure destination. Meanwhile, many of the city’s top hotels are luring business travellers with special meetings packages, as the MICE market continues to flourish. Opinions vary as to whether Hong Kong is or can become an important leisure destination for the Middle East market. “We do feature Hong Kong in our brochure, based on flights with Cathay Pacific, but there is very little demand from this part of the world because it’s not really well known,” says Julia Denny, planning and purchasing manager, Etihad Holidays. “There’s not the awareness that the British ex-pats have because it was a British colony.” But Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) statistics suggest Middle East travellers are wising up to the holiday opportunities Hong Kong presents. Visitor numbers hit the 8.3 million mark in the four months to April, representing a 12.7% increase on the same period in 2005, according to HKTB figures. More than 121,000 of these arrivals originated from the Middle East, a 36.5% year-on-year increase. A regional breakdown of visitor numbers reveals that Saudi Arabia hit the 9348 mark (+50.4%); Egypt, 8056 (+57.7%); the UAE, 8056 (+20.9%); Jordan, 7017 (+30.8%); and Bahrain, 2158 (+112.4%). To further boost numbers, 2006 has witnessed the launch of Discover Hong Kong, a campaign designed to highlight the city’s several new major tourist attractions and to change people’s perception of the Chinese province, according to Sue Whitehead, regional director, HKTB. “It’s an important year for Hong Kong,” she explains. “Middle Eastern visitors are definitely on the rise recently, particularly family groups who are coming for the theme parks and the shopping.” The Hong Kong Shopping Festival, which runs from June 1 to August 31 this year, is a major international attraction she says, and prize draws and special promotions throughout the festival are a guaranteed draw card for Arab nationals in particular. Theme parks are also attractive to the Middle East market. Disneyland Hong Kong opened its doors in September 2005 and the popular waterfront venue, Ocean Park, is set to undergo a HK $5.55 million (US $715,000) redevelopment. Other new developments include the Hong Kong wetlands project, a new eco-tourism facility aimed at promoting green tourism to it visitors, and Ngong Ping 360, a new cultural village tourist attraction adjacent to the famous sitting Buddha. Whitehead says there is “no such thing as a typical Middle Eastern customer” although many travellers from this market do tend to opt for luxury accommodation. “But there are also a huge number of people looking at mid-range accommodation too,” she adds. “Hong Kong is by no means an exclusively high-end destination; there are accommodation options to suit all budgets.” Setting off Hong Kong’s national carrier Cathay Pacific, which this year celebrates its 60th birthday, has been flying between Hong Kong and Dubai for the last 30 years. The airline has witnessed a 20% growth in passenger numbers from the UAE over the last 12 months, even though the number of flights has remained unchanged. Country manager James Evans says growth can mainly be attributed to an increase in the number of business travellers, even though they only account for 25% of custom on this route. Cathay operates 13 direct flights between Dubai and Hong Kong each week, giving business travellers flexibility in the times they travel. Two of these leave Dubai at 18.20 and arrive in Hong Kong at 06.15. “We need to have this flexibility for our business class passengers who want to do a good day’s work here, then arrive back in Hong Kong in time to do another good day’s work there,” says Evans. The carrier also operates direct flights between Hong Kong and Bahrain and Riyadh, and although Dubai is “by far the biggest Middle East market”, Evans says Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Oman are also witnessing rapid growth. ||**|||~|HK-city---large.gif|~|Hong Kong is being pitched to the Middle East market as a leisure destination in its own right due to the shopping, nightlife and family activities it offers.|~|“Hong Kong as a destination is becoming more and more attractive to people in this region; it is a peak leisure destination within Asia. You have two very different markets; the people who go there as a holiday destination and the people who use it as a hub for going on to other destinations in the region, which is a major part of our business. According to Evans, 90% of bookings come through travel agents: “We do have internet booking and it has been growing, but this market is still very much travel agency based,” he says. Tailor made “Increased exposure of international events like the Rugby Sevens, horse racing and the Hong Kong sale (shopping festival) has seen an increase in travellers out of the Middle East into Hong Kong, and international trade fairs have further added to the growth factor,” says Davinder Kaur, destination development manager, Emirates Holidays. Kaur says travel agents need to create more awareness of the outlying areas and islands, such as Lantau, Lamma, Cheung Chau, and the New Territories, to encourage longer stays. “They need to actively promote the mega sales period. A focus on family attractions like Disney and Ocean Park would also increase the appeal of the destination,” she adds. Emirates Holidays offers a wide range of packages for visitors to Hong Kong, but tends to tailor make individual itineraries according to the requirements and time constraints of the customer. Creature comforts Hotel occupancy rates across all categories have remained at an average of 86% despite the fact that the number of hotel rooms increased by 4% between April 2005 and April 2006, according to HKTB. Most of Hong Kong’s five-star hotels, which as Whitehead mentions are popular with Middle East travellers, have views of the harbour and beyond and provide a full compliment of business facilities. The Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers has 782 guest rooms, including 91 suites and 123 connecting rooms, which can cater to large family groups. Facilities include five restaurants, three lounges, a health and fitness club, a temperature controlled pool on the rooftop, jacuzzi and sundeck. “Approximately 30% of our guests are leisure customers and the rest is made up by business travellers and groups,” says Florence Suen, the hotel’s marketing communications manager. “The number of arrivals to the Sheraton from the Middle East has risen by 38% since 2002, and the duration of stay has also increased.” The Peninsula Hong Kong is one of the country’s most elite accommodation options, boasting a fleet of Rolls Royce cars and a private helicopter shuttle service to transfer guests to and from Chep Lap Kok International Airport. Lamey Chang, the property’s director of public relations, says that only 2% of guests are from the Middle East. “At the moment we receive very high-end business from the Middle East. We believe that there is a huge untapped potential from this market and we have identified this as an important new target.” Final thoughts Agents should encourage customers to opt for commissionable extras such as chauffeur-driven cars which can take them on a tour of Hong Kong’s verdant regions: Lantau Island, the virtually untouched New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Helicopter rides above Victoria Harbour are another potential money earner, and evening dinner cruises can be booked through a ground handler. By making customers aware that Hong Kong is more than just a stopover point and offers visitors a full itinerary of activities, shopping and nightlife, agents can encourage them to stop for at least a few nights in Hong Kong in conjunction with another Asia destination, or even for a week-long holiday. ||**||THE SALES PITCH|~|James-Evans---large.gif|~|James Evans: business travellers account for 25% of custom on Cathay Pacific’s Dubai-Hong Kong route (13 flights weekly).|~|GETTING THERE: Cathay Pacific: from Dubai, 13 flights weekly; from Bahrain, daily; from Riyadh, three flights weekly. Emirates: from Dubai, double daily. Singapore Airlines: from Dubai, 10 times weekly; from Abu Dhabi, three times weekly. Both via Singapore. Gulf Air: from Bahrain, daily except Sunday; from Muscat, daily via Bangkok. Qatar Airways: from Doha, daily. GETTING AROUND: A coach service leaves Chep Lap Kok airport every 30 minutes, taking passengers to all of the major hotels in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Customers can upgrade to a chauffeur-driven car for a fee. The Airport Express Line (AEL) transports passengers from the airport to the city centre in 23 minutes. From there, a bus service continues to major hotels. WHERE TO STAY: The Peninsular Hong Kong has rooms with a harbour view from HK$ 4170 (US $537) per night. Until September 15, visitors can also choose between a Rolls Royce airport transfer, a complimentary dinner for two, or a 50 minute ESPA holistic massage in The Peninsular Spa, as part of the hotel chain’s Summer Splendour offers. Rooms at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers start at HK $1450 ($187) until August. Sheraton rates are subject to 10% service charge and 3% government tax. USEFUL LINKS: Cathay recently launched www.cxagents.com, a web site providing fare and travel information for travel agents. The HKTB’s official web site is found at www.discoverhongkong.com. PACKAGES: Cathay Pacific is offering several deals to Hong Kong this summer. Prices for a three-night stay in the Holiday Inn Golden Mile Hotel, including return flights, tickets for two adults and two children to Disneyland and Ocean Park, and airport coach transfers start AED 2805 ($764) per person, based on a family of four travelling together. The ‘Visit Hong Kong’ package priced AED 2600 ($708) per person, includes return flights, three nights in a three-star hotel and airport transfers. These offers are valid for passengers travelling from the UAE until September 10. Peninsular Hong Kong offers rates for business clients starting at HK $2150 ($276), including breakfast, lunch and internet access until September 15. The full-day meeting package is HK $590 ($76) per person, including use of meeting room and amenities, breakfast, lunch, two coffee breaks and free internet use. Visas: Tourist visas of up to 30 days for residents of the UAE and Yemen. 14 day tourist visas for residents of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and India. Others must apply for visas in advance through a Chinese embassy. ||**||

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