Michael Lim is going to be very, very busy next week.
After three long years, the director for Canada, Central and South Americas at the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) will visit the vibrant Southern China city he represents and play tourist.
Lim’s long overdue trip comes as Hong Kong scraps most of its COVID-era rules and reopens to mass tourism after being shut for more than two years due to the pandemic.
And he’s got quite a jam-packed itinerary, too, as new and exciting developments have opened in the bustling cosmopolitan city.
For starters, he’s going to check out some of Hong Kong’s new hotels, like the Fullerton at Ocean Park, the Hari and AKI in Wan Chai, and the Regent Hong Kong (making its return), Hotel 1936, and the WM Hotel in Sai Kung – known as the “back garden of Hong Kong.”
And he can’t wait to ride the new peak tram and take a stroll around lush Victoria Peak, see the new GO Museum and grab a bite at the Peak Lookout.
Then he’ll take an afternoon to cross Victoria Harbour by Star Ferry – his most favourite ferry ride in the world – and head to the West Kowloon Cultural District, which covers 40 hectares. It will soon be home to 17 venues.
He’ll swing by the M+ (culture and visual exhibits) and Palace Museums, and the Xiqu performing arts centre.
When he gets hungry, he’ll have no trouble finding a table, because in Hong Kong, there were more restaurants opened then closed during the pandemic.
Oh, by the way, that’s just Day One.
The Year of the Rabbit
“Wonton noodles will be my first stop,” an enthusiastic Lim told PAX Thursday night (Jan. 19) at a special Lunar New Year reception the HKTB held at Artscape Daniels Launchpad in Toronto in partnership with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.
It’s the Year of the Rabbit, and to usher in a good luck, a pair of LED-lit lions – of the Toronto-based Wushu Project – danced and maneuvered their way through last night's crowd, cozying up for pets and tossing chewed lettuce (it’s a symbol of wealth and prosperity) while drums and cymbals vibrated the room.
It was an exciting sight that signalled Hong Kong’s triumphant return to tourism after being one of the last destinations in the world to resume activities.
“Hong Kong is very resilient. We've gone through a lot over the years, but we will bounce back. It will take time, definitely, but it’s about partnerships,” Mr. Lim told PAX. “As you can see this evening, we've received great support from the industry.”
Indeed: the room was packed last night with tour operators, media and business partners, who were also treated to a spellbinding magic show by Louis Yan, a champion magician who flew all the way from Hong Kong to perform.
Between one act that turned water into wine to another that trapped an audience member’s smartphone in a plastic bottle, to another that miraculously aligned a Rubik's Cube in a paper bag, there’s a reason why Yan is called the “David Copperfield of Hong Kong.”
Hello Hong Kong
Last night’s event came as Hong Kong ramps up market activity with the launch of a new global campaign, "Hello Hong Kong," which will showcase Hong Kong's iconic appeals and new experiences.
Visitors can also expect “mega-events’ to return, Lim told the crowd in his welcome remarks.
“We already have more than 200 events and happenings in 2023. We look forward to welcoming back Canadian visitors,” he said.
But back to Lim’s trip: his visit to Hong Kong next week will include visits to some cultural and heritage must-dos.
At some point he’s going to hit up Hong Kong’s Central Market – the first wet market in the city – and then head to Tai Kwun (a former Central Police Station that’s now an arts centre) and then The Mills, a converted 1950s former textile mill that’s now a retail, exhibit and arts hub.
And he's likely going to get thirsty, so it’s a good thing Hong Kong has many eclectic bars for happy hour, such as The Penicillin, a “zero waste bar” that uses all parts of cocktails ingredients.
Last night, guests were treated to a particularly yummy cocktail – the “Yuen Yeung Martini,” which was created by Pong Bar in Hong Kong for last year’s Wine and Dine Festival.
Then there’s Hong Kong’s dazzling harbour – Mr. Lim is likely going to reserve tables at new restaurants that have fantastic views.
Like Hue at the Hong Kong Museum of Arts, Hutong (an award-winning Northern Chinese restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui) or the recently-opened Lai Ching Heen at The Regent Hong Kong.
And, if time allows, he’s gonna try and play a round of golf in Sai Kung, a peninsula known for its quaint fishing villages and hiking paths.
“It’s rebirth time”
For travellers, the big change is that Hong Kong no longer requires a mandatory PCR test upon arrival. The city's Vaccine Pass, which allowed access to specified premises, has also been lifted.
The update allows visitors to move freely without needing to quarantine, and short-haul markets are already returning, Lim said.
Currently, Ottawa requires people age two and older flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao to test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada. The measure applies regardless of vaccination status, but it will be reassessed at the end of the month.
Canadians have two direct routes to Hong Kong: Air Canada and Cathay Pacific fly non-stop out of Vancouver, while Cathay Pacific has a direct flight from Toronto Pearson.
“There's a lot of pent-up demand,” Mr. Lim noted.
His advice to travel advisors?
“Stay tuned for FAM opportunities,” he said. “Seeing is believing, and we're going be announcing FAMs shortly. Travel advisors are very important.”
“We’re excited. It’s rebirth time.”