A handover and ten years later

A decade after Hong Kong was returned to the Chinese, Maeve Kelynack Skinner finds that tourism in the province is thriving — and the locals have stopped scowling and started smiling

Hong Kong has flourished in the ten years since the Handover from British rule in 1997 when it became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Mainland China operating under a ‘one country two systems’ formula.

Contrary to fears that it might be absorbed into China's modernisation programme and lose its individuality and financial independence, Hong Kong has firmly established its position as a bridge between China and the world. 
Initially, Hong Kong was like a child let loose from its mother's apron strings and hovered uncertainly in its new found quasi-independence, unsure of where it should be heading and nervous that Shanghai would succeed in its bid to become the Wall Street of the Orient.
Within five years Hong Kong found its goldmine when it became a platform for overseas investors looking to deal with industrial cities such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou on Mainland China’s Pearl River Delta area. In 2006, foreign direct investment into the province totalled $36 billion, ranking it second in Asia and sixth in the world. Hong Kong chief executive, Donald Tsang, vows to make it ‘Asia's world city’.
Hong Kong has always been one of the world’s top tourist attractions as the 'pearl of the orient' because of its exotic link to one of mankind's greatest civilizations and, for its 24/7 shopping, dining and entertainment. In 2006, its visitor arrivals totalled a staggering 25 million people.
“This figure represents 8.1 per cent year-on-year increase, supported by the success of 2006 Discover Hong Kong year,” said Clara Chong, executive director of the Hong Kong Tourist Board (HKTB). “Our main visitors come from Europe, North and South America, Middle East, Australasia with the Chinese mainland the largest source, with arrivals increasing by 8.4 per cent to more than 13.6 million in 2006.”
Since 1998, HKTB has run an annual courtesy campaign ‘Be a Good Host’, which inspires locals to be helpful to visitors and offer a positive impression of Hong Kong. As expatriates in the city note dryly: “On Handover Day the locals stopped scowling and started smiling.”

Visitors can sometimes find Hong Kong's geographical situation confusing. Hong Kong itself is one of 260 islands off Mainland China; these include Lantau where HK International Airport is located. Victoria Harbour separates HK from Kowloon and the New Territories which extend as far as the boundary of Mainland China. Hong Kong’s population is approximately 6.9 million.