With the global economy in better shape, people are splashing out on travel, with industry figures showing healthy growth since the beginning of the year.
According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), the number of tourist arrivals reached new heights, exceeding 16.8 million in the first half, with more than 10 million of that total coming from the mainland.
The board is also confident visitor arrivals will continue to maintain a steady upward trend in the coming months.
"We have seen not just significant year-on-year growth, but also a leap from the levels of 2008 in many regional markets," an HKTB spokesman says.
In view of the importance of mainland visitors for the local tourism sector, relevant organisations are allocating a significant amount of time and resources to cultivating the market.
"We have adopted tailored strategies for our promotions on the mainland," the spokesman says. "In southern China, we encourage frequent `consumption' visits, especially by people working for major corporations who have high spending power. In other provinces, we focus on explaining the diverse interests found in Hong Kong, highlighting our major attractions, local festivals and exciting events year round."
One of those major attractions, Ocean Park, is also optimistic about the prospects for inbound tourism. In the 2009/10 fiscal year, the park welcomed more than five million visitors, with more than 65 per cent from the mainland. As the largest source of overseas visitors, the mainland was followed by the Philippines, South Korea and India. "To continue to attract more guests, we are now undertaking a major HK$5.55 billion Master Redevelopment Project (MRP)," says Tom Mehrmann, Ocean Park's CEO. "It is a six-year project that will double the number of our attractions from the original 35 to over 70 in multiple phases, and is slated to be fully completed in 2012/13. We will have new animals, new infrastructure and the latest thrill rides. I believe this will continue to put us in a very good position in becoming a world-class theme park that provides unique experiences, combining education, conservation and entertainment."
The new Aqua City is scheduled to open at the end of the year. It is a giant aquarium, which will be one of the largest in Asia, with more than 30,000 fish and 450 species.
Also, a new lagoon will present "Symbio", a spectacular evening show featuring the world's first 360-degree water screen. Visitors will be able to experience Hong Kong's first night extravaganza showcasing visual effects created with water, fire and special technology.
The battle for the tourist dollar remains fierce across Asia, but the HKTB says Hong Kong still enjoys unique strengths and has a competitive edge. These include easy accessibility, a strong hospitality sector and professional services. "Destinations around the region are investing heavily in their tourism facilities and promotional activities," the HKTB spokesman says. "Notwithstanding these developments, we see opportunities for greater co-operation between Hong Kong and other destinations."
At present, 36 per cent of tourists who visit Hong Kong will also spend time in another city or resort on the same trip. For those who come here from long-haul markets, the proportion is even higher, reaching almost 90 per cent.
To take advantage of this global trend to stopover, or stay at multiple destinations, the HKTB has been working closely with travel trade partners to promote suitable itineraries and packages featuring Hong Kong and other nearby options.
"We have introduced 'A Day in Two Cities', which encourages independent travellers to visit Shenzhen or Macau to take an excursion to Hong Kong and vice versa," the spokesman says. "The response has been encouraging so far, with an average of 800 bookings for these tours every month."
With every sign that tourist numbers will continue to increase, the HKTB is well aware that the sector will need a well-trained workforce and a steady supply of new recruits at different levels. It is also clear that with tourism-related projects to be completed in the next five to 10 years, such as the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland, many more job opportunities will become available.
According to Mehrmann, Ocean Park will create thousands of jobs, particularly in its construction and operations divisions, to cope with its expansion plans. "By the time the MRP is completed, our total workforce will have increased from 1,500 to 3,000," he says. "We will also continue to put an emphasis on team building, training, performance management, recruitment and retention."