Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Hong Kong should capitalize on its local heritage - and not imported concepts - if it wants to build a strong tourism sector and stave off competition from neighboring cities, business leaders and conservationists suggested Tuesday.
The Business Environment Council invited more than 15 experts from Hong Kong and overseas to speak at its conference on sustainable tourism, with many arguing the global trend towards nature - and heritage-based tourism - presents a business opportunity for Hong Kong, where some 40 percent of land area is designated as country parks.
Keynote speaker and tourism functional constituency legislator Howard Young described tourism as a business product that required both market and environmental sustainability.
While Hong Kong has made significant progress since the 1997 Asian financial crisis in boosting tourism, he said an unclear conservation policy and poor communication between government departments had led to an "unhealthy situation."
He called for the creation of a body comprising environmentalists, political parties, pressure groups and the public to supervise the government.
Conservancy Association chairman Betty Ho agreed, saying Hong Kong needs to strengthen its local identity and exhibit more of its local lifestyle.
"We want Hong Kong to be a global city, not a globalized city," she said.
According to Ho, large-scale imported projects like Disneyland and the Avenue of Stars are "fast-food" types of entertainment
and, therefore, easily replaceable. Instead, she proposed placing more emphasis on culturally unique facets of Hong Kong, such as street markets and dai pai dongs - the small street-side eateries being phased out.
Tourists coming to Hong Kong want to experience the local lifestyle, she pointed out. If the government gave more consideration to public opinion when planning tourism projects - a "bottom-up" approach - tourists would be able to enjoy a more culturally rich experience.
The "bottom-up" approach has apparently succeeded in Macau, where locals are often invited to participate in cultural events held at historical sites, according to Angie Wong, an architect from the Cultural Heritage Department in Macau.
"It reinforces a sense of ownership and encourages an attitude of appreciation," she said. "Unlike Hong Kong, Macau does not have mega-scale monuments. Many are small, simple, unpolished gemstones but, combined, they present a cohesive time capsule in history." While Hong Kong may also have its own array of unique heritage sites
, speakers said many tourists and even locals simply do not know how to access them
. "Hong Kong is far more than simply a shopping and dining paradise," said chief operating officer of Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp, Andrew Long.