On July first Hong Kong marked the tenth anniversary of Chinese sovereignty. During that span the so-called "Pearl of the East" has seen its popularity as a tourist destination rise and fall. Today, thanks to its many retail opportunities and popular attractions, Hong Kong is among Asia's most popular tourist destinations. VOA's Joseph Mok recently traveled to the Chinese territory to gauge the current state of its tourism industry. Jim Bertel narrates.
On September 2005, Hong Kong Disney opened.
Tom Morris is vice-president and executive producer of Walt Disney Imagineering. He says, "I think this is a new generation of attractions in general and particularly for the Hong Kong market where interactivity and high technology seem to be very important. We use Feng Sui in a number of different ways. From a design standpoint, I think the thing that is most visible is the heavy usage of water. Water as a welcoming element, as an energizing element. So, you see a lot of features even before you come to the park."
The Hong Kong Government hopes Disney and other attractions will significantly increase tourism and hope to tap into the huge Chinese market for growth.
Before the handover, most tourists in Hong Kong came from Japan, Taiwan, Europe and the United States. There were very few visitors from mainland China. Four years ago, China eased travel restrictions and promoted "free travel," which injected new life into Hong Kong's tourism industry.
Howard Young represents the tourism industry in Hong Kong's Legislative Council. "When things were first opening up for Chinese mainland residents to come to Hong Kong, they could only travel as part of a tour group. And now, they can come to Hong Kong without being part of a tour group. Mainland residents aren't just coming to visit relatives. They go sightseeing, and shopping. There are some people who even arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. It's all possible," he says.
The SARS epidemic in 2003 dramatically slowed Hong Kong's tourism industry. Since then, it has seen steady growth in the number of visitors from China who come to shop buying mobile phones, jewelry and cosmetics.
Overall, the future of Hong Kong's tourism industry looks bright. Year to date figures show steady growth over last year's 25 million visitors with more than half coming from China. Further, tourist spending is expected to grow by 10 percent in 2007 to over $16 billion U.S.
The once tiny fishing village continues to transform itself ten years after the handover. And no matter whether a British colony or a Chinese territory, Hong Kong remains one of Asia's most popular destinations for tourists.