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Hotel Corner

Farewell to HKHA's Executive Director

James Lu, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, who retires at the end of August after a long and distinguished career, shares with us his insights and perspectives.
I grew up in Toronto, then studied accountancy in Singapore, leading to a lengthy career in finance, starting as a banker with Citibank, then hired by Dow Chemical following a visit to Hong Kong. After a period with Swire, Union Carbide and Swire again I headed to Boston and a post with the (now defunct) Wang Computers. But I returned here to spend a decade with the Hong Kong Tourist Association in finance and administration, before moving over to the Hong Kong Hotels Association as its Executive Director in 1997, over 20 years ago. So, I’ve spent more than 30 years in the tourism/hospitality industry here, and, needless to say, I’ve witnessed a lot of changes during this period. 
The biggest change in tourism in Hong Kong is of course the explosive growth of tourist arrivals from China, which started in earnest in the early 90s and has only flourished since. What really gave it a big boost was the Individual Visitors Scheme that China approved in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic in 2003, greatly liberating travel to Hong Kong. From fewer than 10 million visitors a year in the late 1980s, we now attract almost 60 million visitors a year, more than 75% of them from the Mainland – that changed the hospitality industry a lot! 
Hotels in Hong Kong used to cater to the overseas, long-haul markets and Westerners; the hotels were all similar in style: there were few local general managers, understandably, and F&B also focused on serving long-haul guests. Today, so many more hotels have opened, and we have much more variety with a lot of mid - tier, boutique and budget hotels on offer. And, of course, the Mandarin is used a lot more now. There are now a lot of locally trained hoteliers running the hotels and they’ve done a remarkable job of meeting the challenge.
Even the China market has changed a great deal, from primarily government officials, businessmen and delegations to leisure travellers who are becoming increasingly sophisticated and mature, often having visited overseas destinations such as Australia, Europe, and America. Many more are weekend travellers seeking adventure and looking for unique things to do. We’ll have to find ways to compete with other cities to meet the needs of this younger more openminded tourism segment. 
While competition continues to intensify around the region as more countries in Asia expand their tourism sectors, I am still quite optimistic about Hong Kong’s tourism as I believe it is destined to grow: we have very talented people in the tourism and hospitality sectors; the city offers lots of attractions and things to do; the Government has several tourism projects in the pipeline, and our excellent food culture – with its sheer diversity and affordable prices – is unmatched anywhere. We will continue to be a world-class travel destination for many years to come.
I greatly encourage more young people to join our industry; I think they will enjoy the challenges and the satisfaction from helping to provide visitors to Hong Kong unforgettable memories and experiences.
(Edited on 4 Aug 2017)



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