The tourism board invited over 2,000 trade and media stakeholders, bloggers, celebrities, and key opinion leaders (KOLs) from mainland China, Southeast Asia and Europe in 2023 to visit and help “tell the good story of Hong Kong.”

Tourists The Peak tourism Hello Hong Kong
Tourists on The Peak. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Chinese bloggers with large followings on Xiaohongshu, Douyin, Weibo and Bilibili were among those targeted, alongside Hollywood movie stars, Acting Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Raistlin Lau said in a legislative reply to lawmaker Chan Chun-ying on Wednesday.

Each were invited to “come to Hong Kong to experience [its] diverse tourism features and share their experience on social media to create positive word of mouth and tell the good story of Hong Kong,” Lau’s response said.

See also: Mainland Chinese tourists use social media to search for memorable Hong Kong locations

He added that the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s (HKTB) social media platforms had accumulated 11 million followers, with posts reaching over two billion impressions.

Under Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Raistlin Lau Chun..jpg
Under Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Mr Raistlin Lau Chun. Photo: GovHK.

It is unclear if the visitors were paid, or had editorial independence. HKFP has approached the HKTB for clarification.

Tourism reboot efforts

Hong Kong has struggled to revive its tourism industry since years-long Covid restrictions were lifted. Visitor figures have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, while tourism-related sectors have said recovery has been stalled by a manpower shortage.

The government launched a series of initiatives aimed at boosting the economic outlook, among them a “night vibes” campaign in September involving movie screenings and night markets along the harbourfront. In 2023, the government worked with airlines to give away 500,000 plane tickets for visitors to come to the city as part of its “Hello Hong Kong” drive.

According to the 2024 budget figures, overnight visitors stayed an average of 3.6 nights last year but are expected to stay just 3.2 nights this year. Inbound tourism expenditure is expected to increase by 16.5 per cent this year, from HK$177.9 billion to HK$207.3 billion.

The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau has said it will give “special attention” in the 2024-25 fiscal year to spreading “positive word-of-mouth” messages through media partnerships, organising familiarisation trips with influencers, staging mega events, and promoting the Greater Bay Area tourism brand.

Finance minister Paul Chan announced a HK$1.1 billion drive last month to promote “mega events” and “soft sell” the city, including monthly fireworks displays that would each cost HK$1 million.

The New Year's Eve fireworks display on Sunday, December 31, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
The New Year’s Eve fireworks display on Sunday, December 31, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

However, one of the “mega events” – an Inter-Miami football match – was overshadowed in February after a no-show by injured superstar Lionel Messi prompted a backlash in China and an “apology video” by the athlete.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.