Hong Kong unveils post-SARS deals

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HONG KONG -- Tourism and corporate travel officials here at the launch of a major post-SARS, inbound travel revitalization strategy are hoping to entice visitors with value-added promotions and packages.

The Hong Kong Tourist Bureau (HKTB), along with U.S. tour operators and wholesalers, unveiled a Tourism Month promotion -- actually two months, through mid-September -- that features packages starting at less than $900 for two, including four nights' accommodations and air from the East and West coasts.

The HKTB's Global Tourism Revival campaign also includes a "Hong Kong Welcomes You" promotion, which will offer a Welcome Passport discount-coupon booklet good at shops, restaurants and attractions, and a Welcome Day event on Aug. 17. On that day, 600 VIP trade partners and overseas guests as well as 2,000 consumers on Welcome Day tour packages will be feted and entertained by a laser light show at Victoria Harbor.

In addition, festivities will include a global advertising campaign starring martial arts star Jackie Chan and package tie-ins for events such as the mid-Autumn Lantern Celebration, from September to mid-October; an international musical fireworks competition in October; Winterfest from mid-November to December; and the International Chinese New Year's Night Parade in January.

HKTB chairman Selina Chow said the promotions should move Hong Kong close to a total tourism recovery within six to 12 months.

She added that the HKTB plans to focus on the U.S. market, especially at the ASTA World Travel Congress in Miami this fall. Hong Kong will be the host city for the congress in 2004.

Meanwhile, Mark Lettenbichler, chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, said Hong Kong hoteliers are stressing value in their attempt to lure back corporate and leisure travelers.

The association's "Be Our Guest" campaign -- launched soon after the World Health Organization lifted its travel advisory -- offers a third night free with two nights paid (maximum two days for seven-day stays) through Sept. 30. The offer, which is valid for business or leisure travel, is available at 77 hotels.

"We're seeing a short-term booking revival because of this," Lettenbichler said, "and we're also hoping to see 3% to 4% increases on our monthly statistics."

Lettenbichler said Hong Kong's hotels are faring well despite seeing occupancies drop to single digits in early May. He said he hopes to see the city's occupancies reach 2002's level of 78% later this year, with a complete recovery by first-quarter 2004.

Officials look to region for healthy recovery

HONG KONG -- The SARS epidemic might have dealt a severe blow to Asia's tourism industry, but indications point to a healthy recovery based primarily on a recent increase in regional travelers, according to officials at the Boao Forum/World Tourism Organization (WTO) conference here.

The annual conference -- usually held in Boao on the mainland but moved this year to Hong Kong -- focused on how governments and companies can work together in fostering cross-border tourism while also creating multinational mechanisms to react to crises, such as SARS and terrorism.

Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive, said the short-haul market is recovering quickly, thanks mainly to Hong Kong's resiliency.

Visitor arrivals last year totaled 16.6 million, an increase of 20% compared with 2001 -- this despite the Asian economic crisis of 1997 and 1998 and 9/11.

After SARS cut arrivals by more than 85% in April and 89% in May, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and suppliers scrambled to get the message out that with the World Health Organization's lifting of its travel advisory, it's again safe to visit.

In fact, the Boao Forum's secretary-general, Long Youngu, in a classic spin move, told the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong's recent pro-democracy street protests, such as the 500,000-strong march on July 1, are showing the world the SARS outbreak is over because not one person was seen on TV or in photos wearing a surgical mask.

The Chinese and Hong Kong governments are spending billions of dollars to shore up what Tung calls "the environmental hygiene black spots."

Hong Kong residents now are reminded on billboards not to spit or face a fine.

Reacting quickly to negative events seemed to be the main focus from Boao Forum participants.

Francesco Frangialli, secretary-general of the WTO, said that although SARS was a worldwide public perception nightmare, the affected countries now realize that political boundaries must give way to better communications and public/private cooperation, including unified crisis management strategies. -- R.C.

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