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‘Preparing for an era of post-pandemic travel is one of the greatest challenges’

Puneet Kumar Puneet Kumar

Puneet Kumar, Director, South Asia & Middle East, Hong Kong Tourism Board, speaks about the strategy to restart tourism from India market

Engaging with the consumer and the travel trade has been a priority for international destinations during the pandemic. Hong Kong is showcasing its various attractions through their virtual initiative ‘360 Hong Kong Moments’. To further keep the travel trade fraternity updated, Hong Kong Tourism through multiple webinars reached over 1900 travel professionals in year 2020-21.

Hong Kong has been one of the most popular destinations for Indians over the years. With challenges in the recent times (protests and COVID-19), how has the tourism sector been impacted in HK?

Tourism has all along been vulnerable to changes to social and economic environment, and global tourism has been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has reshaped the global tourism landscape. Preparing for an era of post-pandemic travel is one of the greatest challenges to have confronted the tourism sector.

Over the past year, it has been hugely encouraging to see Hong Kong businesses learning from these emerging trends to develop new opportunities – upgrading their infrastructure, capturing the mounting demand for seamless digital experiences, developing protocols to raise hygiene standards, and creating innovative offerings inspired by the treasures discovered by the people of Hong Kong during their holidays at home.

Unprecedented challenges require out of the box solutions to recover. What will be your strategy to revive and restore tourism in Hong Kong? 

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has laid a robust yet agile 3- stage engagement strategy for local and overseas markets.

Stage 1, launched “Holiday at Home” campaign promoting year-round offers to drive local tourism and to encourage HK people to rediscover their city’s hidden gems and unique experiences,

Stage 2, ready to launch “Open House Hong Kong” hospitality campaign with exciting travel offers and in-town experiences once essential inbound travel resume,

Stage 3, launch of brand-new campaign to retell HK stories once travel continues to fully resume

As a precursor to welcome the overseas visitors into Hong Kong, the HKTB launched ‘Anti-epidemic Hygiene Measures Certification Scheme’ in partnership with the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA). Under this scheme, the tourism industry and related sectors will follow a standardised hygiene protocol to assure visitors of a safe and healthy stay, helping us establish a healthy and safe tourism image of Hong Kong and bolsters visitors’ confidence in traveling here. More than 2,500 organisations participated to strengthen public and visitor confidence in out-of-home consumption and travel.

As of now, we are using “360 Hong Kong Moments” our global initiative to virtually opening the city to the world. A series of virtual-reality (VR) videos showcasing the authentic neighbourhoods, city Vs nature, iconic Victoria Harbour, tram ride, culinary delights and thrilling nights in Hong Kong, allows our overseas visitors to relive their Hong Kong moments that they are missing most from their previous trips and also inspire others to expand their bucket list of things to do in Hong Kong when they visit next.

Will India be one of the top priority markets for you post the issue? Being a short-haul destination for Indians, do you see an opportunity post Covid-19 from this market? With long haul still under question, do you foresee a spike in Indian arrivals?

We are closely monitoring the market conditions and travel readiness to activate our plans. For us, India’s importance is in its diverse traveller segments with varying travel intents. Over the years, Hong Kong has successfully attracted leisure travellers, fly-cruise vacationers, meetings and incentive business groups and we are confident that with exciting tourism developments, new upcoming attractions and rejuvenating experiences, Hong Kong is well-positioned for business recovery in all key segments from India once the travel resumes.

While the travel has taken a long pause between India and Hong Kong due to COVID-19 outbreak, we filled this time to keep our prospects, media, corporate clients and trade partners updated and engaged with Hong Kong. We also updated and refreshed destination knowledge for our travel trade partners through multiple webinars that reached over 1900 travel professionals in year 2020-21.

By when do you foresee MICE and corporate travel market to bounce back?

In Hong Kong, there is a strong and steady MICE business recovery with return of events and exhibition resumption. The vibrancy in the city’s exhibition scene demonstrated how Hong Kong continues cultivating business under the new normal – the Hong Kong Book Fair, the city’s largest annual fair, returned with fanfare this July with more than 830,000 visits recorded, about 85 per cent of the pre-pandemic levels, all under a new standard of stringent hygiene and seamless operations. 

Boosted by the momentum of the vibrant physical event scene in the second quarter, over 30 exhibitions have been scheduled in Q3, almost double the number of exhibitions in Q2. Some are the largest of its kinds in the region, including the HOFEX, Asia's leading food & hospitality tradeshow set to return in September.

While the market conditions in India is dynamic and ever evolving, we continue to focus our efforts for business recovery and market readiness, our MICE team has curated new incentive ideas/programmes such as:

New themed itineraries for incentives: To anticipate the resumption of travel, the team is developing new themed itineraries that answer the emerging trend of experiential, wellness and interest-based travel, such as CSR and wellness. Many new inspirational ideas and refreshed experiences are curated to enrich corporate Meetings and Incentive (M&I) groups’ itineraries, and to encourage them rediscover Hong Kong with new lens.

Tactical campaign for M&I: Along with our Hong Kong industry partners, we will be curating exclusive offers and incentives under the [email protected] campaign to make it a rewarding experience for the visiting corporate delegates. The programme will further be enhanced with additional offers from hotels, free ticket from airline, attractions and more.

Trade partnership: We will also be collaborating with our travel trade partners in India, who are focused on the MICE segment. MEHK will be working with their teams to create compelling offers for their corporate customers, supporting their outreach initiatives for lead generation and assisting them during their planning process.

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