7th July 2024 – (Hong Kong) In recent months, Hong Kong has embarked on a series of high-profile events aimed at revitalising its tourism sector. From the “Inflatable Wonders” exhibition at Central Harbourfront to the Doraemon drone shows and exhibitions, the city’s efforts to attract visitors have been both ambitious and costly. However, these initiatives have sparked a critical debate about the direction of Hong Kong’s tourism strategy and its impact on the city’s cultural identity.

The recent Doraemon-themed events, including drone shows and exhibitions, have undoubtedly generated excitement among fans of the Japanese cartoon character. However, they also highlight a concerning trend in Hong Kong’s approach to tourism promotion. While Doraemon may be a beloved figure globally, its prominence in Hong Kong’s tourism landscape raises questions about the city’s commitment to showcasing its own unique cultural heritage.

The first Doraemon drone show in May, despite its technological impressiveness, left many spectators disappointed due to its brevity and overt commercialisation. The display of sponsors’ logos during half of the drone formations detracted from the spectacle, leading to vocal dissatisfaction among attendees. This incident highlights the risks of prioritising commercial interests over authentic cultural experiences.

The announcement of a second drone show and extended exhibitions featuring Doraemon further emphasises the government’s reliance on foreign intellectual properties to drive tourism. While these events may attract a certain demographic, they do little to highlight Hong Kong’s rich history, traditions, and local artistic talents.

The “Inflatable Wonders” exhibition at Central Harbourfront serves as another example of misguided tourism efforts. Featuring large-scale inflatable replicas of global landmarks such as Stonehenge and the Arc de Triomphe, the exhibition has been criticised for its lack of relevance to Hong Kong’s cultural landscape. Regina Ip-Lau, Convenor of the Executive Council, aptly described the installations as “a series of jokes” that fail to resonate with the public despite their high costs.

Ip-Lau’s critique extends beyond mere aesthetics. She highlights the disparity between the substantial investment in these temporary installations and their underwhelming reception by both visitors and media. Her comments reflect a growing sentiment among certain sectors of the population who prefer sustainable and nature-centric tourism over ephemeral and often costly artistic endeavours.

The focus on imported attractions and temporary installations represents a significant missed opportunity for Hong Kong. The city boasts a wealth of natural beauty, historical sites, and vibrant local culture that remain largely untapped in its tourism strategy. As Regina Ip-Lau suggested, resources could be better utilised by enhancing natural tourism attractions, such as the scenic offerings of Hong Kong’s outlying islands.

Ip-Lau proposed a pivot towards utilising Hong Kong’s inherent natural beauty to boost tourism. She advocated for improvements to infrastructure and transportation facilities on Lantau Island, suggesting the transformation of the Cheung Sha Government Holiday Villas into high-end holiday homes. This approach could attract tourists seeking a more authentic and scenic experience, aligning with global trends towards sustainable and experiential travel.

Hong Kong has produced numerous cultural icons whose legacies continue to resonate with fans worldwide. Figures like Bruce Lee, Leslie Cheung, and Wong Ka Kui have left indelible marks on global popular culture. Yet, the government has historically overlooked the potential of these homegrown stars to attract tourists and celebrate local heritage.

The contrast with mainland China’s approach is stark. While Hong Kong allowed Bruce Lee’s former residence to be lost to history, Foshan established a dedicated memorial hall in his honour. This disparity highlights the shortsightedness of successive Hong Kong governments in recognising and preserving cultural treasures.

As Hong Kong grapples with economic challenges and changing tourist consumption patterns, it is crucial to reevaluate its approach to tourism promotion. The city’s allure has diminished in recent years, necessitating a shift towards more authentic and meaningful experiences for visitors.

Hong Kong should prioritise showcasing its unique cultural assets rather than depending on foreign imports like Doraemon or generic inflatable attractions. This effort could involve developing exhibitions and experiences that highlight Hong Kong’s rich cinematic history and local celebrities. Additionally, enhancing and promoting the natural attractions on outlying islands, as suggested by Regina Ip-Lau, would further spotlight the region’s beauty. Creating immersive experiences that celebrate traditional crafts, cuisine, and performing arts, along with preserving and repurposing historical sites, would offer visitors authentic glimpses into the city’s past. Collaborating with local artists and cultural practitioners to create exhibitions and events could also reflect and enhance Hong Kong’s contemporary creative scene.

In an era where travellers increasingly seek authentic and immersive experiences, Hong Kong’s reliance on imported attractions seems misguided. The city’s unique blend of East and West, its rich culinary traditions, and its stunning natural landscapes offer a wealth of material for creating compelling tourist experiences.

Regina Ip-Lau’s call for a focus on enhancing natural attractions aligns with global tourism trends. Eco-tourism and sustainable travel are growing sectors, and Hong Kong’s diverse landscapes – from its bustling harbourfront to its serene islands and hiking trails – position the city well to capitalise on this trend.

Moreover, Hong Kong’s cultural heritage, including its festivals, traditional arts, and historical sites, provides a foundation for developing unique, locally rooted tourism experiences. Events like the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance offer glimpses into Hong Kong’s living traditions that could captivate international visitors.

While events featuring popular characters like Doraemon may have short-term appeal, they do little to differentiate Hong Kong from other global destinations or provide visitors with authentic local experiences. The challenge for Hong Kong’s tourism authorities lies in striking a balance between attracting international visitors and preserving the city’s cultural identity.

Investing in the preservation and promotion of local cultural heritage sites and traditions is crucial for Hong Kong. Developing tourism campaigns that showcase the city’s unique blend of Eastern and Western influences can also highlight its distinct identity. Supporting local artists and cultural practitioners in creating experiences that reflect Hong ong’s contemporary creative scene is essential. Additionally, enhancing infrastructure and accessibility to natural attractions, as suggested by Regina Ip-Lau, will improve visitor experiences. Collaborating with local communities to develop sustainable tourism initiatives will ensure that both residents and visitors benefit, further enriching Hong Kong’s tourism landscape.

Hong Kong’s tourism strategy must evolve to strike a balance between attracting international visitors and preserving its cultural identity. By pivoting towards a more culturally grounded approach, Hong Kong can create sustainable tourism initiatives that not only attract visitors but also enrich the city’s cultural landscape.