Hong Kong beckons
Hong Kong is wooing Middle East visitors with its unique fusion of East and West, says BABU KALYANPUR.
Hong Kong is making a major effort to boost tourism from the Middle East this year.Though the number of tourist arrivals from the Middle East dropped by 8.3 per cent last year as compared to the year before, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB)is keen to promote Hong Kong as an exciting destination for tourists from the region. It is convincing Middle Eastern travellers that Hong Kong is safe, visitor-friendly and has all the facilities to cater to the majority Muslim visitors. With the September 11 attacks on the US affecting tourism worldwide, Hong Kong seems to have remained relatively unscathed. The number of tourists visiting Hong Kong during last year grew 5.1 per cent from 2000 to 13.7 million as a flood of visitors from mainland China more than offset a drop of tourists from elsewhere, HKTB figures reveal. Of the 13.73 million visitor arrivals last year, 74,352 were from the Middle East compared to 81,108 in 2000. The average length of stay was three days. However, Hong Kong is pushing ahead with plans to enhance it as a long haul holiday destination, emphasising on its romance and unique fusion culture and the spectacular contrast of city and nature. The city is being branded as 'A living fusion of East and West'. The two-year The City of Life: Hong Kong Is It! campaign, launched in April last year, is in full swing and many exciting events have been lined up this year. The next major event will be the Hong Kong Flower Extravaganza slated for this month. The flower show will be supported with cultural shows. This will be followed by the Mega Hong Kong Sale in the summer months from June to August which could be a major attraction for Middle East visitors. The City of Life Street Carnival will mark the end of the year, providing non-stop action day and night, with local and international entertainment. The HKTB has involved the local tourism industry such as the hotels, shopping malls, cultural centres and the major airlines such as Cathay Pacific to further strengthen its promotion. A Disney Park, set to open in 2005 in Lantau Island, will add to the attractions. Hong Kong is also giving priority to enhancing its existing facilities to keep their tourism value up. A HK$30 billion ($3.8 billion) tourism investment package includes the expansion of the Hong Kong International Airport to handle 87 million passengers by 2020. Hong Kong has plenty to offer for Middle East travellers seeking wholesome family attractions. The Ocean Park brings a mixture of nature and entertainment for the entire family. For HK$165 for adults and HK$85 for children, families can enjoy scary virtual rides, a cable car experience, or admire over 2,500 fish from 200 species or enjoy a few serene moments with two pandas, a gift from the Chinese during the 1997 handover. A ride up the Victoria Peak in the Peak Tram offers a unique experience, a feeling of being in the clouds. Hong Kong is an absolute shoppers delight. From the exciting Nathan Road to the local markets, great shopping and a lively atmosphere is provided. Eating is an important pastime and the variety of food available is incredible. One of the main concerns for the Middle East traveller has been food and whether it will be available true to Islamic traditions. However, Hong Kong officials are quick to point out the many restaurants, which offer halal food. Visitors are cautioned though that some dishes in the restaurants may not be halal. Hong Kong also has mosques for Middle Eastern travellers. The Shelley Street Mosque was built in 1915 in Central District on Hong Kong Island. The Masjid Ammar on Hong Kong Island forms part of the unique Osman Ramju Saddick Islamic Centre, which in addition to the mosque, has a community hall, library, conference rooms, a clinic, youth centre and a canteen and offices. For a bit of quiet, Sai Kung offers the perfect solution. A sampan ride to one of the many islands constituting Hong Kong provides solace and serenity in the sun. With its hustle and bustle, hi-tech and high-rise, Hong Kong is the 14th most popular destination the world. By 2020, it will rise to 5th according to the World Trade Organisation. The HKTB is hoping that its campaign will further enhance Hong Kong's position and make a visit to the city an exciting, energising and inspirational experience.