A sporting chance in Hong Kong

Mega sports events are opening up possibilities for Hong Kong’s tourism, but tour operators have yet to grab a handle on this niche market, finds Prudence Lui


Sports fever has swept Hong Kong as the city hosts an increasing multitude of international sporting tournaments in recent years. Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), recognising the potential of this niche market, has been actively promoting sporting events to showcase the city’s diverse offerings and to strengthen its position as the sports tourism hub of Asia.

“Sports events not only enhance the city’s image and enrich tourists’ experience, they also bring substantial economic benefits to Hong Kong,” said HKTB executive director, Anthony Lau.

Established events like the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, Hong Kong Marathon and the International Dragon Boat Races have successfully drawn many overseas participants as well as large crowds of spectator visitors to Hong Kong, he pointed out.

Riding on the growing popularity of cycling in Asia, HKTB organised the first-ever Hong Kong Cyclothon in October 2015, attracting more than 3,500 participants, including some 100 cyclists from 17 countries and regions.

The latest addition is FIA Formula E Championship, the world’s first international series for electric-powered open-wheeled cars, which will take place on October 9 around a 2km-long track between Lung Wo Road and the Star Ferry.

On how the Hong Kong ePrix can position Hong Kong favourably, Lawrence Yu Kam-Kee, president of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, said: “The street circuit will showcase our city to millions around the world, demonstrating that Hong Kong can stage a major international event of the highest calibre.”

Acknowledging the benefits of sports tourism, Ng Hi On, director of CTS International Science-Technology & Culture Exchange, calls for more mega sporting events to be held in Hong Kong. He remarked: “The (Hong Kong Marathon) drew both Chinese and South-east Asian visitors. Given the decline in mainland Chinese arrivals, this could be an alternative source of arrivals, making it beneficial for Hong Kong to host more mega sporting events in future.”

While Hong Kong has seen a significant uptick in sports events and attendance, the trade is still grappling with the viability of tapping this niche market.

Michael Ziemer, general manager of The Excelsior Hong Kong, said: “We work closely with travel agents who receive bookings from individual travellers coming for sports activities, (but) we do not specifically target this segment as (its market size is still) considerably smaller at this stage.”

Commenting on the challenges that tour operators face when organising sports-centric tours, Alan Wu, managing director of Tour Asia, said: “Activities like cycling and hiking are popular among small groups of eight to 10 pax and FITs from Europe. However, group requests have a long lead time so when these new sports events are finally confirmed, clients have already booked their trips.”

The lack of non-English-speaking tour guide is another challenge. “Most French- or German-speaking guides are not young and they do not find this kind of trip lucrative due to the lack of shopping elements to earn commissions,” he added.

This article was first published in TTG Asia, March 4, 2016 issue, on page 24. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

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