HKTA Courts Florida, Southeast Market

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MIAMI -- Though Hong Kong's tourism dipped last year, the number of U.S. arrivals remain strong, an official of the Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA) said.

Deputy executive director of the association, Douglas Gautier, said Hong Kong hopes to bolster the U.S. market with growth in Florida and the Southeast. The region expects to boost is presence here with the 290-room Mandarin Oriental hotel, expected to open near Miami in 2001.

Compared to the 11.4% overall drop in Hong Kong tourism last year, U.S. arrivals grew 7%, Gautier said. He projected 5% to 6% growth for 1998. "We have momentum going here," he said in an interview with Travel Weekly here.

With more than one million visitors a year, the U.S. accounts for 10% of Hong Kong tourism, just under Europe's 12%.

Gautier said Florida and the Southeast will play a key role in the expansion of Hong Kong's U.S. market, and with that in mind the HKTA will send a representative, Terry Fu, here within a few months.

Gautier said Florida is a promising market because of the number of senior travelers who have the time and money to travel across the Pacific. The Southeast, which accounts for 15% of the U.S. market, is growing fast and has the promise to match the West Coast and Northeast in terms of arrivals, he said.

Gautier added that the U.S. market remained strong because of the continuing U.S. economic boom and the resurgence of U.S. interest in China.

Noting the reversal in Hong Kong's tourism since July 1, when the former Crown Colony became the Special Administrative Region of China, Gautier said the slide in arrivals reached 20% the second half of the year, but he likened the downturn to the slackening of visits in a destination that had just held a Summer Olympics.

Assessing the letdown, he added, "Hong Kong has been the premier destination of Asia for years, and people love to go there." Gautier said the financial crisis in Asia has resulted in currency devaluation and higher prices for Asian visitors, but he added that he believes business travel will remain strong because of Hong Kong's position as the gateway to China.

With regard to the discovery in November of a new strain of flu, Gautier noted that the World Health Organization is monitoring the situation and has not issued advisories against travel there.

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