Domestic market in focus

With international markets out of reach, Hong Kong is encouraging tourism businesses to rely on the domestic travel market, with incentives to help with the transition

HKTB believes that locals’ love for Hong Kong attractions and experiences will improve foreigners’ confidence in the destination

Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is now into the second phase of its three-stage tourism recovery roadmap.

Where the first stage was focused on encouraging domestic tourism, the attention now is on developing travel bubbles between Hong Kong and source markets where the outbreak is under control.

HKTB believes that locals’ love for Hong Kong attractions and experiences will improve foreigners’ confidence in the destination

The final stage of the tourism recovery roadmap will involve work to resume international travel.

HKTB’s executive director, Dane Cheng, acknowledged that the path to tourism recovery would be long as uncertainty remained around the pandemic.

With access to international markets still out of reach, HKTB has chosen to rely on domestic travel to support the industry. To that end, HKTB launched the Hello Hong Kong campaign to encourage locals “to travel and explore the territory from new perspectives”.
“Since Hongkongers cannot fly out due to (travel) restrictions, why not take this chance to rekindle our interest in Hong Kong?” said Cheng .

He believes that local support will send a positive message to foreigners considering future travel plans to Hong Kong.

The Hello Hong Kong campaign encompasses three main features.

Firstly, there are six thematic and immersive itineraries developed just for the locals, such as culture and wellness, with a focus on lesser-known attractions and activities. Some ideas include forest bathing in Tai Po and boating in Tai Mei Tuk.

Secondly, the campaign drives over 11,000 attractive offers via a one-stop dining, shopping and entertainment platform.

Lastly, there is a Spend-to-Redeem Free Local Tours programme for Hong Kong residents. At press time, this programme has been suspended due to a resurgence in community infections.

HKTB told TTG Asia that it is closely monitoring Covid-19 conditions around the world, and is ready to launch targeted promotions in source markets that are ready to travel again.
Destination information and special tour packages for specific markets will be made available through the Hello Hong Kong campaign.

Some destination specialists, like Gray Line Tours, are heeding HKTB’s call to pivot to the domestic travel market for survival.

Executive director Ronald Wu shared that two to three itineraries were created just for Hong Kong residents. To attract interest, the itineraries are attractively priced and feature routes that are not easily accessible to the public.

Liberty Hong Kong’s managing director, Portia Hau, agrees that tours that stand out in the local market will be those that are unusual and “value for money”.

Hau’s team is promoting customised, upscale and in-depth tours via social media and within own social circles between this month and December 2020.

Wu believes there is potential demand from locals, given that the government is offering cash rebates to residents who purchase featured itineraries.

Furthermore, the government’s Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme should also incentivise local tour agencies to pursue the domestic travel market, he opined.

The scheme grants travel agencies a cash incentive for organising tours that encourage the public to get close to nature and practise green lifestyles.

Also looking for sustenance in the domestic travel market is Walk in Hong Kong, a specialist in walking tours.

Co-founder and CEO Paul Chan shared that limited edition tours are now being offered on a regular basis and at a discounted rate, and are promoted on the HKTB campaign platform.
However, Chan admits that local spending power pales in comparison to long-haul markets.
“The (local) traffic (also cannot) compensate what we have lost to the pandemic. We would only benefit if locals looked for expert guides (and) unique experiences that (mass market) products cannot offer,” he added.

The shift to domestic market is a diffucult decision to make.

Despite scoring a few local bookings, mostly for short breaks in hotels, general manager, Doris Lam, of inbound events specialist, Momentous Asia Travel & Events, said “it is not easy for DMCs doing inbound business to make adjustments overnight” because “it takes years for a DMC to build up its branding in a market and its clientele base”.

For Ivy Sung, CEO of Faces of Hong Kong, the ROI from serving the domestic leisure marketing is too minimal for the business switch to make sense.

Gray Line Tours’ Wu opined that the Hello Hong Kong campaign can only be a “short-term tactic” for industry survival.

“We, the agents, ultimately hope the business situation will improve in 4Q2020. As overseas markets are now inactive, we can only maintain close communications with our partners, to update them (on safety conditions in Hong Kong) and (share travel tips for) a safe journey (in the future).”

Wu said travellers now value health and safety standards over price and exotic destinations.

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