Reed Travel Features executive editor Joe Rosen spent a few
days in Hong Kong on a trip sponsored by Japan Airlines, the Regent
Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Tourist Association. His report
Reed Travel Features
HONG KONG -- Of course, the much-ballyhooed handover of Hong
Kong to China was a royal pain for the incredible shrinking British
empire, but now,
Although new restrictions on freedom of assembly and
representative democracy in Hong Kong are making civil
libertarians, journalists and more than a few ordinary citizens
uneasy, commercial interests are in their ascendancy here -- a
roller-coaster stock market notwithstanding -- and all's right with
the world as far as business people are concerned.
One man who keeps his hand on the pulse of the traveling public
is Thomas Axmacher, general manager of the top-of-the-line Hong
Kong Regent hotel. Axmacher is upbeat about the future of tourism
here. "It was only natural that there was a down period after the
handover, especially considering that Hong Kong is coming off a
record year, but bookings are up again," Axmacher said over dinner
one night in the Regent's 1930s-style Club Shanghai. "The
International Monetary Fund's meeting here in Hong Kong [in late
September] was a vote of confidence, and the rest of it -- fears
about what would happen after the handover -- is a nonstory."
Considered one of the finest hotels in the world and, certainly,
a place where the capitalist ethic is as much a part of the opulent
ambiance as the Asian art that graces its lobby, the Regent, like
other properties here, experienced a downturn immediately following
the handover frenzy.
For many, there was no place to go but home the morning after
the night of the party of the year. In fact, despite a more than
10% surge in U.S. visitation through the months leading up to the
handover, August figures were down 3.7% and hotel occupancies
averaged only 66% compared with 89% in August 1996.
But if the period immediately following the festivities that saw
Hong Kong become a Special Administrative Region of China was
anticlimactic, tourism officials remain bullish about the tourism
economy. "The fall looks strong, and we are very optimistic," said
Mary Bakht, director, public relations, of the Hong Kong Tourist
Association. "As people get used to the change [in sovereignty],
tourism numbers will increase."
As for my own brief and episodic experiences walking the
bustling streets here, riding the easily negotiable and
spectacularly air-conditioned MTR (subway) and soaking up the
sights and sounds from atop an open double-decker tram, Hong Kong
remains an enticing and exotic destination for agents to sell.
Although the obvious reflections of British hegemony may have
been dimmed or erased -- the police sport new uniforms, the post
office boxes have been repainted, the Jockey Club is no longer
"Royal" -- the crowded sidewalk markets in Tsim Tsat Tsui are as
colorful as ever, the shops and outlets continue to thrive and the
great restaurants still entice gourmets with clay-encrusted
beggar's chicken, hand-pulled noodles and other delights.
"Hong Kong remains the exciting, accessible place it always
was," said the HKTA's Bakht. You don't need a visa, and English is
spoken. It is our challenge to get people on a plane to see