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Beyond fireworks and drone shows: How can HK get more bang for its buck with tourism?

Beyond fireworks and drone shows: How can HK get more bang for its buck with tourism?

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While mega star Taylor Swift’s recent exclusive Southeast Asia stop in Singapore upset other neighbouring regions, Hong Kong has decided to fight back and revive its tourism by introducing regular pyrotechnic and drone shows during festivals and large-scale events. 

This comes as part of Hong Kong government's HK$1.1 billion investment to enhance the Hong Kong brand. According to The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), the inaugural show will make its debut on 1 May, welcoming the Labour Day Golden Week holiday. Meanwhile, the first drone show will add appeal to the city’s traditional festive celebrations on 11 May at the Wan Chai Temporary Promenade. 

While each show possibly costs more than HK$1 million, Hong Kong’s finance chief Paul Chan said on his weekly blog that several groups have expressed their interest in sponsoring the shows. 

HKTB also encourages trade partners to leverage various events and activities to roll out more tourism products such as harbour tours, pyrotechnic-view dinners and other experiences to encourage visitors to stay longer in town and create opportunities for other tourism-related sectors such as F&B and retail sectors, hence stimulating consumption and generating economic benefits.

Don't miss: 'Groups interested in sponsoring proposed fireworks show,' says HK's finance chief

The initiative has in fact drawn mixed reactions from netizens across Hong Kong, where media intelligence firm CARMA saw over 5,000 mentions, with 30.4% negative and 8% positive sentiments from late February until early March. 

“Many netizens have expressed skepticism and raised questions about such decisions, as they find it difficult to believe that monthly pyrotechnic shows would effectively boost tourism and enhance Hong Kong's image as a world-class city, especially given the current financial and tourism challenges the city is facing,” said CARMA's HK general manager Charles Cheung. 

Some individuals voiced their disappointment, highlighting that pyrotechnic and drone shows are far from innovative, he added.

There have also been discussions among certain netizens who pointed out that there seems to be confusion among most people regarding the distinction between fireworks and pyrotechnics, according to Cheung. 

Meanwhile, social monitoring firm Meltwater saw over 325 mentions across social platforms, with 35.7% positive sentiments and 0.3% negative sentiments. Keywords associated with the fireworks and drone shows include "daily visitors arrivals", "countdown festivity" and "surprising locals". 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to the HKTB for a statement.

Industry reactions

Commenting on the move, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to believed while drone shows and fireworks can capture the attention of tourists, their impact on the overall tourism of the city may be limited and short-lived. 

Hannah Duley, managing director, Hong Kong, Design Bridge and Partners, said certain cities align their drone shows and fireworks with their distinctive identities. For example, Shenzhen showcases its innovative and futuristic image through drone shows, while cities in Japan embrace the tradition of “Natsu Matsuri” (夏日祭) where fireworks represent the lively spirit of Summer. 

“But fireworks and drone shows in Hong Kong? We don’t see lots of meaningful correlation with the city identity at the moment,” she said. “Therefore, we should not only look at what other cities are doing but also look from the inside.” 

Moreover, with mainland China being at the forefront of drone technology and already having impressive fireworks displays, those who live there may not find the concept attractive in Hong Kong, according to Yvonne Ma, founder and managing director, Eighty20.  

“Considering Hong Kong's distinctive features, drones are not inherently associated with the city, and fireworks, while visually stunning, are not novel[...] The success of the event will largely depend on how the organiser presents it and its ability to authentically represent ‘Hong Kong’ to visitors,” Ma added.  

Despite being likely to attract visitors, grand fireworks shows during National Day, New Year countdown and Chinese New Year might not serve the government’s objectives of attracting “overnight” tourists, said Jane Leung, brand and category marketing lead, Klook. 

Having too many monthly fireworks and drone shows might also risk cannibalisation with our grand firework shows, making it less attractive for tourists.    

On the other hand, the regular drone and fireworks displays could also have an adverse environmental impact, potentially dissuading environmentally-conscious tourists and locals, according to Jacopo Pesavento, CEO, Branding Records. This concern is particularly relevant given Hong Kong's already heavily urbanised and densely populated environment. 

“Over time, the novelty of the shows may wear off, leading to diminishing returns in terms of attracting tourists,” Pesavento added. 

Authenticity is the key  

Indeed, a distinctive Hong Kong narrative sets the city apart from others, while an authentic story contributes to the establishment of an enduring city image. Klook’s Leung said Hong Kong’s vibrancy, diversity, and compactness serve as the backbone of itself.  

Leung believed that exploring the blend of Oriental and Western cultures found in Hong Kong's architecture, rituals, and cuisine, as well as promoting the enjoyment of nature through short hikes and showcasing unique surprises such as coffee farms and breweries within the city, are areas that the city can focus on to boost tourism. 

Together with the allure of global celebrities and mega-events, we are showcasing the charisma of both a local town and a world-class city. 

Focusing on more personalised and relatable initiatives, such as niche city walk routes, trending topics, and viral memes, may be more effective in promoting Hong Kong, said Eighty 20’s Ma. 

Apart from in-depth experiences, Branding Records’ Pesavento said the government can invest in hosting various cultural and entertainment events, such as film festivals, art exhibitions, and theatre performances. “Collaborating with international organisers and offering incentives could help attract more global talent,” he added. 

Adding to his point, Design Bridge and Partner’s Duley, noted that Hong Kong has showcased a diverse range of art performances, including opera, ballet, stage shows, and art festivals over the years. “Not only does Hong Kong attract singers and sports stars, but it also remains highly appealing to artists, dancers, and musicians. This is a distinct advantage that can differentiate Hong Kong from other destinations such as Singapore, Korea, or Thailand.” 

However, while the outdated perception of Hong Kong as a place of kung fu movies and cliché sights may deter interest, it is crucial to communicate the new face of Hong Kong. “We should evolve Hong Kong’s offering globally to capture local life and new age experiences across arts, culture, and sport,” Duley added.  

Creating a new retail experience  

On the retail front, Hong Kong’s competitiveness in attracting bargain chasers and luxury shoppers has dropped significantly due to the rise of daigou (代購) in Europe and Japan, and more Hongkongers heading north to snap up cheap deals. Moreover, Hainan is poised to become a strong competitor in this regard. 

As such, Hong Kong needs to focus on creating more innovative store designs and unique experiences to make shopping fun and memorable for everyone, said Eighty20’s Ma. 

“It's important to recognise that more adaptive thinking is needed for the mainland China market. Additionally, a substantial budget is often required to make a significant impact in the mainland China market due to the size of the market,” Ma said. 

Hong Kong also has the potential to collaborate with global attractions that have yet to establish a presence in Asia, such as The Museum of Ice Cream in Singapore, making it their inaugural location, according to Ma.  

The next set of attractions doesn't necessarily have to be large-scale; it's the concept that matters, not the size. The Museum of Ice Cream in Singapore serves as a good case study. 

When it comes to collaboration, Design Bridge and Partner’s Duley emphasised the importance of infrastructure and the capacity to host big festivals. Hong Kong, with its geographic advantage, can partner with Macau to maintain its appeal to big stars. “By utilising the infrastructures of both cities, it creates a more enticing and comprehensive experience for tourists." 

To establish a lasting and relevant city reputation that attracts tourists, Hong Kong can also introduce a ‘new retail’ experience by integrating arts, culture and community in an immersive and engaging way, according to Duley.  

Given that Hong Kong's position as a shopping paradise has been weakened by booming eCommerce, Duley said it is also essential for Hong Kong to shift from retail to experiential city.  

For example, places such as the West Kowloon district, Tsim Sha Tsui area and Sham Shui Po community, are built upon the character of each local community and combine it with hip culture, museums and galleries, shopping malls, hipster cafes, and local food to deliver a unique and one-of-a-kind experience. 

This ‘community ecosystem’ strategy of turning retail into an attractive destination with a rich and authentic experience can help Hong Kong win back its tourists.  

Join us this coming 26 June for Content360 Hong Kong, a one-day-two-streams extravaganza under the theme of "Content that captivates". Get together with our fellow marketers to learn about AI in content creation, integration of content with commerce and cross-border targeting, and find the recipe for success within the content marketing world! 

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