Cultural awakening

A slew of revitalised and new cultural projects opening across the city is stoking Hong Kong’s ambitions of becoming a global cultural destination.

Xiqu Centre, one of the West Kowloon Cultural District’s landmark buildings, is a new home for traditional Chinese opera. Photo by HKTB

An increasingly vibrant and flourishing cultural and artistic scene currently unfolding in Hong Kong is stirring up greater interest among foreign visitors to seek out lesser-known facets of the city.

The growing arts and cultural scene is in part bolstered by active support pledged by the Hong Kong government to the sector’s development, with recent initiatives including HK$20 billion (US$2.6 billion) set aside for upgrading existing cultural hardware and building new facilities, and HK$500 million allocated to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) to acquire museum collections and organise exhibitions.

Xiqu Centre, one of the West Kowloon Cultural District’s landmark buildings, is a new home for traditional Chinese opera. Photo by HKTB

Having positioned itself as an art city in Asia through events like Art Basel and numerous openings of blue-chip galleries, a fresh crop of mega cultural projects launching over the next few years is set to inject a new buzz to Hong Kong’s arts and culture scene.

For instance, the 57-year-old Hong Kong Museum of Art will reopen in November this year on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront following a major makeover with an eye-catching glass façade. Not only will the institution see its total exhibition area expand by 40 per cent from 7,000m2 to 10,000m2 and the number of galleries increase from seven to 12, it has also received 350 Chinese painting and calligraphy masterpieces from Chih Lo Lou Art Promotion for its permanent collection.

West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), a government-funded development project that seeks to create a hub of arts and cultural venues in a 40ha waterfront area west of Yau Ma Tei, will house numerous facilities. This includes the Xiqu Centre, a venue for Cantonese opera; Freespace, presenting contemporary arts performances; Lyric Theatre Complex, focusing on international dance and theatre: M+, a museum of visual culture; and the Hong Kong Palace Museum, which will display Chinese art and culture from the imperial period.

Hong Kong’s flourishing cultural scene has given a visible marketing push for tour operators, say industry players.

For instance, Hong Kong A La Carte’s managing director Alexandra Malandain has added tours of Tai Kwun, a contemporary art and heritage centre housed in the restored and revitalised Central Police Station compound.

She explained: “The western market, especially FITs and corporates, is definitely interested in hosting events and meetings at the brand-new Tai Kwun. They like the way the compound mixes contemporary buildings with old ones. They are also keen on the art exhibitions and the numerous F&B offers there. The Museum for Contemporary Art, M+ and K11 should interest them as well.”

Likewise, Via Vai Travel, director, Sef Lam, also offers architecture and heritage tours of key and revitalised landmarks like the new University of Chicago campus in the old Victoria Detention Centre; the Haw Par Mansion, which has been given a new lease of life as Haw Par Music Farm; Xiqu Chinese opera, which gives “an excellent introduction to an art form many are not familiar with”; and twinning a visit to Tai Kwun with H Queen’s, a building dedicated to art and lifestyle.

“Based on our experience, these are popular destinations, each with its own attraction,” Lam remarked.

Nadia Quinn, lead guide at Hong Kong Greeters, told TTG Asia that such attractions not only add breadth to Hong Kong’s portfolio of tours, but also helps to cultivate a lasting impression of a destination offering “diversity and variety”.

She added: “We observed travellers attending Art Basel are mainly business people or those who have a direct connection to art and culture, whether through work or personal interest. I hope more staff training would help tourists receive friendly guidance upon their arrival at these new cultural attractions and make it easier for them to navigate.”

Hospitality players are also keen to get a piece of the action in Hong Kong’s flourishing arts scene, with the new Hotel Alexandra slated to open in early 2020 as a design-led property. Melding Victorian elegance and modern concepts to create an atmosphere evocative of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the 840-room hotel will be adorned with art fixtures like engraved golden doors and pendant crystal chandeliers, general manager Christina Cheng informed. 

She added: “We are excited to be a part of this integral artistry, bringing Hotel Alexandra to new heights within the growing art scene in Hong Kong, making it a friendly social hub space and a welcoming arena for creative campaigns, art installations and showcases.”

However, art and culture is often not the sole attraction for tourists visiting Hong Kong, noted Paul Chan, co-founder, Walk in Hong Kong.

He explained: “Except for Hong Kong Arts Month and Art Basel, there is no defining feature that stands out for the city’s cultural tourism push at this stage. Still, we need these kind of new attractions to build up the (momentum) with (multifaceted support) to boost tourism.

“Factors like quality of curated exhibitions, access to performances and events, as well as availability of a systematic information channel are crucial software to draw visitor interest. In fact, there isn’t any integrated system that shows what the city offers in a day, and ticketing is tied up with two ticketing agents that often have a lot of glitches during purchasing.”

It’s still early days for Hong Kong’s culture tourism development, Chan elaborated, as the under-construction WKCD is not yet anchored on the cultural hub ecosystem while existing institutions like Xiqu Centre needs supporting attractions in its vicinity to become a staple stop on tour itineraries.

The management of cultural venues is also a key link, Chan pointed out, stressing the importance of having a roster of “creative promotions and new themed exhibitions” for tour operators to incorporate them into walking tour programmes to attract international visitors.

Lam also noted: “In the long term, education is important to get tourism school students interested in arts and culture. I believe strongly in students acquiring hands-on experience and getting involved with an art form, so that they will develop a growing appreciation for the art form as they mature and share this knowledge and passion with the people being guided.”


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