Case Study #15: “Hello Hong Kong” Needs a Reintroduction

By Candice Fok and Ravel Chan, 2023

Background

Hong Kong, as an international tourist city, has long relied on its thriving tourism industry. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of incoming travellers to Hong Kong dramatically plummeted, dropping from 55.91 million in 2019 to 3.57 million in 2020. In 2021, the number even further decreased to only 91,398 visitors (Hong Kong Tourism Board, 2023). The contribution of the tourism industry to Hong Kong’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) plunged from 3.6 per cent in 2019 to 0.4 per cent in 2020 (Census and Statistics Department, 2021).

With the easing of the COVID-19 situation and the reopening of borders, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), organized a large-scale promotional campaign named as “Hello Hong Kong.” The campaign aimed to entice business and leisure travellers to return to Hong Kong by publicizing various measures and activities.

The campaign was officially announced on February 2, 2023, and implemented in various aspects, starting from March 1, 2023.

Goals and Key Message

The “Hello Hong Kong” campaign was launched to revive Hong Kong’s tourism industry and reaffirm Hong Kong’s status as an iconic tourist destination after the pandemic. The campaign aimed to rebuild travellers’ confidence and attract visitors by showcasing the city’s unique attractions, cultural experiences, and renowned hospitality. The key message of the campaign is “Come and visit Hong Kong. We are as vibrant as we used to be”; unfortunately, the tagline doesn’t truly capture that message.

Key Actors and Key Actions Taken

The government has shown great dedication to the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign. John Lee, the Chief Executive of HKSAR, was featured in the promotional video. The campaign cost the government approximately $100 million HKD ($17 million CAD) in its first phase (Hung, 2023).

The campaign included three key events (Hong Kong Tourism Board, 2023).

World of Winners 500,000 Flight Tickets Offers

In order to entice international travellers to come to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Tourism Board partnered with Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Express, Hong Kong Airlines, and Greater Bay Airlines to offer 500,000 free, economy, return air tickets to Hong Kong from countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania (The Standard, 2023).

The tickets were distributed through the airlines’ websites on a first-come, first-served basis. Winners will only need to pay for the taxes and surcharges of the ticket. “A round trip ticket between Vancouver and Hong Kong only costs me $434 CAD,” tweeted a social media-using Vancouverite (Docto, 2023), while typically, economy, roundtrip tickets from YVR to Hong Kong cost in the $4,700 CAD to $5,400 range (Shepert, 2023).

HK Goodies Visitor Consumption Voucher

HK Goodies is a consumption voucher program for foreign travellers. By signing up with a non-Hong Kong phone number, travellers were eligible for a traveller-exclusive offer worth $100 HKD ($17 CAD) or above.

Travellers can choose to enjoy a complimentary welcome drink from the participating bars or restaurants, get a cash voucher to enjoy $100 HKD off at selected merchants with no minimum spending required, or choose from other options, such as free transportation tickets or redeem special gifts at attractions as memorabilia of the visit.

New and Upgraded Attractions

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the Hong Kong government took the opportunity to upgrade existing attractions and build new tourist spots in preparation for the reopening of the border.

New must-see destinations include M+ Museum, Hong Kong Palace Museum, the new sixth-generation Peak Tram, Water World Ocean Park, and the new night-time show in Hong Kong Disneyland. All these new developments and enhanced landmarks aimed to captivate and engage tourists, making Hong Kong still one of the most sought-after destination for world travellers.

Outcome

The “Hello Hong Kong” campaign has yielded remarkable results in revitalizing tourism in the city after the pandemic. Since its launch, there has been a significant influx of tourists returning to Hong Kong. Recent data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board reveals a staggering increase in visitor arrivals, with roughly 10 million visitor arrivals in the first five months of 2023 (Hong Kong Tourism Board, 2023). In May of 2023 alone, the total number of visitor arrivals exceeded 2.82 million, which accounted for approximately 55 per cent of the pre-pandemic level, indicating a promising rebound in the industry (Hong Kong Tourism Board, 2023).

The success of “Hello Hong Kong” has garnered extensive coverage and international headlines. The campaign’s innovative approach and large-scale marketing events have captured the imagination of both local and international media outlets, further enhancing Hong Kong’s visibility as a premier travel destination. Despite its achievements, however, the campaign has been criticized for failing to establish an emotional connection with the authentic essence of Hong Kong.

Learning for PR practitioners

The government of HKSAR has regarded this post-pandemic tourism campaign a success because of the dramatic increase of the number of incoming international tourists. Meanwhile, the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign provides valuable lessons for PR specialists:

Encapsulate the Key Message into a Snappy, Effective Tagline

While the tagline “Hello Hong Kong” is short and catchy, it fails to promote the uniqueness of Hong Kong beyond a general warm welcome. This tagline is “frothy, vapid and meaningless” (Sudhaman, 2023).

When New York said “I Love NY,” it was about pride. “Hello Hong Kong” has no concrete meaning and will get ignored (Superbrands News, 2023). The key message of the whole campaign is “Come and visit Hong Kong. We are as vibrant as we used to be.” However, the key message is not effectively encapsulated in the encoded message, “Hello Hong Kong.” It fails to communicate the irresistible features of the “real” Hong Kong, such as the eclectic atmosphere in older districts, the well-preserved natural environment, and the underestimated waterfront running trails. They are the reasons for tourists’ next visits.

Considering the slogan used by the government’s BrandHK campaign in 2001: “Hong Kong — Asia’s World City,” the use of a supposed contradiction in terms made it very concise and clear to the world that Hong Kong is a top international city in Asia. “Hello Hong Kong” appears to be rather colourless.

Avoid a One-off, Expensive Promotional Event and Conduct a Thorough Audience Analysis

A successful promotional campaign aims to persuade the target audience to change their behaviour in a sustainable way. In this campaign, the primary goal is to attract the international tourists to visit Hong Kong frequently.

While the giveaway of 500,000 free flight tickets is a dashing gimmick and drove global headlines, it was a costly, one-off event with very limited reach and only a short-term impact. Charles Lankester, the Executive Vice President of Global Reputation Management in Ruder Finn, likened this free ticket giveaway to a “superficial, promotional sugar rush” (Sudhaman, 2023). Take Hello Hong Kong’s Canadian campaign as an example; “there are only 1,555 tickets up for grabs” (Dunn, 2023). While the giveaway may drive a considerable number of travellers to flock to Hong Kong in the short run, it is unlikely that this campaign can sustain their interest beyond the initial promotion and have them come back as frequent visitors in the long run. In other words, the cost-effectiveness of the event is low because the promotion effect diminishes very quickly.

When planning a tourism campaign, organizations must consider their return on investment. According to the statistics on incoming visitor by country, Canada was never one of the top 10 sources of visitors into Hong Kong between 2017 and 2019 (Hong Kong Immigration, 2019). Therefore, conducting a thorough audience analysis would have helped identify the target market and allocate resources more effectively to boost the number of visitors coming from the top 10 countries, including Mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, and the U.S.

Test Operating Capacity Before Launching

Given that the free flight giveaway is the most dazzling event of the campaign, the first point of contact, the airline website, must be fully functional in order to leave the best first impression for all the international travellers.

Unfortunately, what most Canadians and the rest of North America got was not the free tickets, but a complete disaster (Docto, 2023). A participant tweeted, “@Cathaypacific Your execution of the rediscover HK promotion for tickets from the USA to HKG was disastrous. […] I got nothing but error messages, denied access” (Alberts, 2023). Lots of other participants expressed their anger and frustration about the system failure, hours-long wait times and the unfairness.

Undoubtedly, the campaign of free flights giveaways has attracted worldwide attention. However, the ticket selling system failed to live up to the tourists’ expectation. Therefore, comments like “don’t run a campaign if your IT isn’t ready” (Wong, 2023) were everywhere on X (formerly Twitter) and it may create a self-inflicted public relation headache.

To leave a positive first impression, PR campaigns must thoroughly test and prepare all systems before launching such a large-scale, massive worldwide campaign.

Conclusion

The “Hello Hong Kong” campaign showed promising results in revitalizing tourism in Hong Kong, but there are valuable lessons to be learned for tourism boards to enhance campaign effectiveness. To further ensure a favourable return on investment, whether the number of global travellers in the next five years can be comparable with trends before a critical incident (COVID-19, in this case) will be of paramount importance.

References

Alberts, L. [@evopumplarry]. (2023, May 17). Your execution of the rediscover HK promotion for tickets from the USA to HKG was disastrous. Despite being near the [Tweet Post]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/evopumplarry/with_replies?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1659020155383431170%7Ctwgr%5Ea8dc9d39ccb127825c37057c1aa506b05b0b632a%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdailyhive.com%2Fcanada%2Fhong-kong-free-flights-disatrous-execution

Buddle, C. (2023, February 5). ‘The world’s biggest welcome’ needs to be in it for the long haul. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3209123/worlds-biggest-welcome-needs-be-it-long-haul

Census and Statistics Department. (2021, December). The Four Key Industries in the Hong Kong Economy. Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics. https://www.censtatd.gov.hk/en/EIndexbySubject.html?pcode=FA100099&scode=80

Docto, I. (2023, May 18). Hong Kong free flights giveaways slammed for “disastrous” execution. DH Canada. https://dailyhive.com/canada/hong-kong-free-flights-disatrous-execution

Dunn, T. (2023, May 17). Tonight: Cathay Pacific Flight Giveaway Begins. Prince of Travel. https://princeoftravel.com/deals/cathay-pacific-flight-giveaway/

Hong Kong Immigration. (2019). Appendix 8 – Statistics on Incoming Visitor by Country / Territory of residence. Immigration Department Annual Report. https://www.immd.gov.hk/publications/a_report_2019/en/appendix8.html

Hong Kong Tourism Board. (2023). Hello Hong Kong Biggest Welcome to the World. https://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/deals/in-town-offers.html?utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=sem_lh&utm_campaign=ho_hellohk_feb23&utm_content=sem-en-adcopy2&gclid=Cj0KCQjwmtGjBhDhARIsAEqfDEdJ9-fMXsA_8rQzo5AxzOCq0ZrAALznX4JdzejMvxuMCtU67jcg9zQaAh0wEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Hong Kong Tourism Board. (2023, June 15). Hong Kong Received Over 10 Million Visitors in January to May 2023 [Press release].
https://www.discoverhongkong.com/content/dam/dhk/intl/corporate/newsroom/press-release/hktb/2023/06-May-Visitor-Arrivals-E.pdf  

Hong Kong Tourism Board. (2023). Total Visitor Arrivals. Partnernet.hktb.com. https://partnernet.hktb.com/en/research_statistics/tourism_statistics_database/index.html

Hung, E. (2023, February 5). ‘Cheap and tacky’: advertising experts say ‘Hello Hong Kong’ tourism campaigns fails to highlight city uniqueness. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong-economy/article/3209111/cheap-and-tacky-advertising-experts-say-hello-hong-kong-tourism-campaign-fails-highlight-citys

Richburg, K. B. (2023, February 11). What Hong Kong’s spiffy marketing campaign for tourist can’t disguise. The Washinton Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/02/11/hong-kong-marketing-campaign-democracy-regression/

Sudhaman, A. (2023, February 9). “Frothy, Vapid & Meaningless” — PR Experts Weigh In On Hong Kong Tourism Campaign. PRovoke Media. https://www.provokemedia.com/latest/article/frothy-vapid-meaningless-pr-experts-weigh-in-on-hong-kong-tourism-campaign

Shepert, E. (2023, May 16). Hot deal: This epic global city is offering nearly free fares on flights for Canadian travellers. Vancouver is awesome. https://www.vancouverisawesome.com/travel/vancouver-flights-hong-kong-yvr-cathay-pacific-2023-7008886

Superbrands News. (2023, May 30). ‘Hello Hong Kong’ campaign receives mixed reviews from advertising experts’. Superbrands News. https://superbrandsnews.com/hello-hk-campaign-receives-mixed-reviews-from-advertising-experts/

The Standard. (2023, February 2). “Hello Hong Kong” campaign to offer 500,000 free air tickets starting March”. https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/199862/%E2%80%98Hello-Hong-Kong%E2%80%99-campaign-to-offer-500,000-free-air-tickets-starting-March

Wong, S. [@realstanleywong]. (2023, May 17). Your ticket giveaway for N. America is a disaster. Que system failure, was logged in for 2 hours and just got. [Tweet Post]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/realstanleywong/status/1658994702795022336?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1658994702795022336%7Ctwgr%5Ea8dc9d39ccb127825c37057c1aa506b05b0b632a%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdailyhive.com%2Fcanada%2Fhong-kong-free-flights-disatrous-execution