Hong Kong is seeing the number of tourists from Europe and the Americas
fall, so it is looking to emerging markets, including the Middle East,
India and Russia.
Basmah Lok is often asked why people from Arab and Muslim countries would want to visit Hong Kong.
Lok is office manager at the Islamic Union of Hong Kong. She says Middle Eastern tourists often come to Hong Kong to see its five mosques, which are architecturally different from those in other parts of the world.
"And also because Hong Kong is cosmopolitan," Lok said. "We have Muslims from different kinds of countries. We have Indian. We have Indonesian. We have Chinese. From my experience a lot of Middle East Muslim visitors they're very interested in the local Muslim community."
Lok estimates there are 170,000 Muslims among Hong Kong's 7 million people.
Tourism board working to attract more Muslim tourists
The Hong Kong Tourism Board is hoping to attract even more Muslim, Middle Eastern, Indian and Russian tourists. As the global economic crisis takes hold, holiday-goers are cutting back trips and staying closer to home.
More than 29 million people visited Hong Kong in 2008, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year. But in 2007, Hong Kong enjoyed a 10 percent rise in visitors. It wants their numbers to keep rising.
Tourist spending boosts the city's stagnant economy, which is in recession for the first time in five years. In 2007, tourists spent more than $18 billion.
But hotel bookings and overnight stays in 2008 were down slightly from the previous year. Last year, about 60 percent of Hong Kong visitors stayed overnight. The remainder stopped briefly in Hong Kong on their way to somewhere else.
Special packages are designed to spur spending
Even before the economic downturn, hotels, restaurants and shops offered package deals to spur spending. In the past few months, even more venues are cutting rates.
Hong Kong recently set up a tourism office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It also operates tourism offices in Moscow, New Delhi, Bangkok, Sydney, Shanghai, New York, London, Paris and 12 other cities worldwide.
Hong Kong's Trade Development Council, Tourism Board and Exhibition and Convention Center promote its services at home and abroad. About 400,000 people from overseas attended Hong Kong trade shows in 2007.
Swarup Mukherjee runs a textile design company in New Delhi. He showed his hand-loomed shawls and scarves during Hong Kong's recent Fashion Week. He says he regularly shows in Europe, as well.
"But it's becoming so costly," Mukherjee said. "Still we do the Europe shows. But Hong Kong, if you're importing something from all over the world you cannot avoid China. So everybody comes here to Hong Kong."
Most tourists come from mainland China
South and Southeast Asians make up about one-tenth of Hong Kong's tourists. Visitors from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas comprise about 13 percent.
Mainlanders made up more than half of 2008 visitors, up almost 9 percent from the year before. Their numbers offset losses from Europe and the United States. China eased visa restrictions making cross-border travel easier.
Paul Tse is a Hong Kong legislator who represents tourism. He says Hong Kong also needs to further ease visa restrictions.
"There's too many places like Taiwan, like Russia, like India that still require a visa to come into Hong Kong. I think we should lower that as soon as possible," he said.
Tse says Hong Kong should work more closely with Macau to promote joint tourism.
The Macau Government Tourist Office recently sponsored a float in Hong Kong's Lunar New Year night parade. The Hong Kong Tourism Board also invited 13 international performance groups to take part, including the Brass Band of Moscow Cadet Music Corps.
Band members said they would come again to Hong Kong. They like to see the city instead of just reading about it in tourist guidebooks.
Tourism board says Hong Kong has a lot to offer for tourists considering trip there
But the Russians, Macanese, Indians, Japanese and others in Hong Kong for Lunar New Year will soon leave. In the coming months, Hong Kong expects its economy to slow further, as happens in Western countries following Christmas.
In addition to seeking out emerging markets, Hong Kong may depend, in part, on tourists like Ramsey Taylor of Dubai, who comes to the city regularly on business.
Taylor says Hong Kong is a safe city, which offers many things to do for families, couples and singles. He says Hong Kong is reputed to provide top customer service.
But good service alone may not be enough to keep Hong Kong's tourism from further decline.