This may be the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, but for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, 2010 is all about dragons ... and documentaries. The organization partnered with United Vacations to offer sophisticated yet affordable vacation packages tied to a new travel documentary, "Hong Kong: Quest for the Dragon," that began airing on PBS-affiliated TV stations this month.
"We wanted to develop a really broad marketing program that ideally encompassed broadcast but, importantly, also brought in our trade partners to market a product based on that program," said Bill Flora, director, USA, for the HKTB.
The documentary, sponsored by United Vacations and hosted by travel journalist Richard Bangs as the latest installment in his "Adventures With Purpose" series, "was the perfect fit," according to Flora.
"Adventure is one of the real focus points of our strategy, and we're trying to leverage the real sense of authentic cultural exploration affluent consumers are looking for," he said. "After enjoying 'Hong Kong: Quest for the Dragon' on their local PBS station, they'll understand the many ways in which Hong Kong offers a culturally enriching destination experience with adventures around every corner.
"This is a marketing program that can direct travelers to an actual tailored, customized experience" in Hong Kong, he said.
As such, the packages, which are priced from $1,469 per person, offer travelers the chance to partake in the HKTB's selection of 15 free Cultural Kaleidoscope Tours classes. Selections include workshops on tai chi, kung fu and feng shui as well as antiques and Chinese tea appreciation.
Not just culture
United Vacations also throws in two free tours, an Afternoon Kowloon Cultural & Life tour and an evening cocktail cruise with a seafood dinner at Lei-Yue-Mun fishing village, and offers four optional paid tours: half-day tours of the city and Ocean Park amusement park and full-day tours of Lantau Island and Hong Kong Disneyland.
But neither the package nor the TV program is just about cultural adventures in the big city, Flora said. "Richard Bangs likes to focus on the underlying cultural aspects of destinations he covers ... but [he] tends to focus on out-of-the-way [natural] locales such as deserts," he said, making Hong Kong a seemingly unusual choice.
"But what a lot of people don't realize ... is that 40% of land in Hong Kong is set aside as country park," Flora added. "So this was Bangs' opportunity to do it both ways: showcase the best cultural aspects of the city but also show a lot of the [natural] beauty."
The Quest for the Dragon packages are designed to appeal to both upscale and mass market travelers as well as both first-time and repeat visitors.
"There's a very attractive lead-in price for the mainstream market, but [affluent travelers] can upgrade the experience to customize and build it out as far as they'd like," Flora said. "I also think it will appeal to both first-timers and repeaters. Hong Kong is one of those cities where you can always discover something new."
More American travelers seem to agree, according to HKTB research. The organization reported that the U.S., Hong Kong's fourth-largest source market, has sent the city 9% more travelers thus far in 2010 than it did in 2009.
"We're having a nice rebound vs. the very tough year most other destinations have experienced."
The United Vacations packages, available August through March, include roundtrip airfare from San Francisco on United; five nights' accommodation plus daily breakfast at the Harbour Plaza 8 Degrees, Harbour Grand Kowloon or the Langham, Hong Kong; airport transfers; and the Kowloon tour and evening cocktail cruise/seafood dinner.
For more on United Vacations, go to www.uv-asia.com. To preview webisodes, see www.discoverhongkong.com and click on the "Adventures With Purpose" link.
This report appeared in the July 19 issue of Travel Weekly.