Cultural climate highlighted in Hong Kong push

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The Hong Kong Tourist Association wants potential visitors from the U.S. to think of the city as more than just home to gleaming skyscrapers and international bankers.

With the extension of its "City of Life" campaign launching this month, the association seeks to portray Hong Kong as a cultural hub with a rich history. It's a move to position the island as a New York of the Far East -- a thriving modern city with renowned dining options, but also a place with museums, opera and distinct customs.

"It's the fusion of East and West," said Lillibeth Bishop, the tourist association's publicity and promotions manager in the U.S.

GRAYING BOOMERS

The campaign is aimed at Americans 55 and older, many of whom are graying baby boomers thirsting for a chance to experience Asia for the first time. And association marketers feel they have a product that can quench the thirst: a vivacious Far East locale with thousands of years of history. There's an added bonus: All those years of U.K. occupation have left a lot of English-speaking citizens behind.

"Americans for the most part want to have a lot of different experiences, but an awful lot don't want hard-core, strange experiences," said Madigan Pratt, a travel marketing consultant.

The association will spend $1 million in October and November alone on the print, radio and TV effort that includes national 30-second spots on CNN and the Travel Channel. Last year, the association spent just more than $1 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Print will run nationally in publications such as Reader's Digest and Gourmet as well as newspapers in major markets; radio will run in Los Angeles and New York. The association's U.S. agency is Irma S. Mann Strategic Marketing, Boston.

TOURIST RENAISSANCE

The emphasis on Hong Kong's cultural flavor comes as the city undergoes a renaissance as a tourist attraction.

Visits by U.S. tourists took a dive after the handover from the U.K. government to the Chinese in the summer of 1997. But according to the association, Americans have begun to visit again at a level near pre-handover levels. The number of U.S. visitors is up 12% through the first six months of this year over the same period in 1999. Still, some lingering unease can be found stateside. "There's still some skepticism that we have to work on among the general public, not necessarily the seasoned traveler," said Lily Shum, the association's regional director for the Americas.

NEW ATTRACTIONS

The cultural push also comes as new attractions are set to open in Hong Kong. This December, a new $108 million Heritage Museum will open, while a revamped Museum of History is scheduled to open in 2001. Meanwhile, neighboring China may be on the brink of a American tourist mini-boom as U.S. airlines seek to boost service to the country, which could serve to increase visitors to Hong Kong as well.

Besides emphasizing culture, the new campaign seeks to give Hong Kong a face. The series of :30s highlights real people such as tai chi and feng shui experts, an opera singer and a tea authority. Fashion designer Vivienne Tam will appear in one spot, while movie star Jackie Chan, who has been used by the association before, will likely make another appearance.

Separately, the association this month plans to launch a direct mail initiative targeting ad agencies to persuade them to film commercials in Hong Kong.

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