With less than two months to the start of the 2019 Global Wellness Summit, the organizing committee announced a location shift: from Hong Kong to Singapore. The chairman attributed the shift in location to their efforts to “ensure travel is as seamless as possible in and out of the Global Wellness Summit.”
This week, there are reports that hotels are putting staff on unpaid leave, during what is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year.
Major source markets have issued travel advisories on Hong Kong. The Canadian Government advises travellers visiting Hong Kong to exercise a ‘high degree of caution,’’ and the United States warns travellers to ‘Exercise increased caution in Hong Kong due to civil unrest.
Tourism in Hong Kong accounts for 4.5% of GDP and is responsible for a quarter of a million jobs. It is an important part of the economy. It is already clear that the protests that began in June will have an impact on tourism in Hong Kong. While tourism is a fragile industry, sensitive to shocks – it is also resilient. Destinations around the world that suffered from natural disasters or political crisis have shown how destinations can start to lay a foundation to welcome tourists back after the protests subside.
While tourism is a fragile industry – sensitive to political or natural shocks – it is also resilient. Travel always includes some element of risk – but the amount of risk to travel to Hong Kong has increased, quickly and dramatically due to the protests. Even when the risk (real or perceived) subsides, travellers need to feel safe, and have good information, from reliable sources.
If Hong Kong wants to lay the foundation for tourism to return once the protests are over, they should consider:
- Providing better information to tourists: Opening the Discover Hong Kong website today, you’d never know anything was amiss. The carousel images show a young couple enjoying an ice cream, ‘Eat Cool Like a Local.’ The DMO should clearly share information about the protests, where they are taking place, and what tourists should do should they find themselves caught up in a protest. Good information is reassuring. No information feels like the DMO is trying to hide something. Modern tourists are discerning, and failure to provide up-to-date information, and instead proceed with ‘regular programming’ may be seen as prioritizing commercial interests first.
- Special offers: Work with tour operators, hotels and other suppliers to create special offers for tourists to visit. Visitors are likely to overlook the political situation if they are getting a great deal.
- Keep the travel trade informed: The travel trade needs good information to anticipate which of their clients can travel to Hong Kong and know when and how to prepare them for the situation on the ground. A good relationship with the travel trade pays off in the long term; they can divert tourism flows or market other destinations that are more responsive to their needs.
- Training staff: Hotels and other suppliers should train staff to answer guests’ questions about the geo-political situation. Tourists will have questions, and they will engage with locals – often hospitality staff. Proper training will ensure staff is comfortable and prepared to answer any difficult questions.