Convince Hongkongers that the city is back, and the world will follow

If Hong Kong’s new campaign to lure back visitors appears to say nothing new, that’s because residents already know what makes the city great. So why doesn’t the government focus on uplifting and engaging its people to sell Hong Kong to the world? After all, no one else could do it better.

It’s been quite some time since our film industry’s heyday, when Hong Kong movies enjoyed a cult following around the world. But seeing Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu star in a promotional video for the city’s latest “Hello Hong Kong” campaign – which is basically a mishmash of really tired and uninspiring words strung together – is a real rude awakening. The lower half of the chief executive’s body was cropped out.

After the previous administration’s botched “Relaunch Hong Kong” campaign, which cost the public purse more than HK$44 million (US$5.7 million), brought on the wrath of pro-establishment lawmakers like the now Home and Youth Affairs chief for being a colossal waste of money, the government has got to be careful with these PR blitzes.

When she was still in the legislative council, Alice Mak Mei-kuen was fierce in her criticism of the government hiring of public relations firm Consulum to run the multimillion-dollar campaign after the 2019 anti-government protests.

For what the PR firm found to be Hong Kong’s uniqueness as the only city in the world that offers direct access to the mainland market while boasting a creative and entrepreneurial spirit and being a great place to live, Mak said she could’ve told our government for free. Abraham Razack went as far as suggesting that the officials let the Audit Commission scrutinise the campaign and budget.

So at least we know that most of the HK$2 billion for the Hello Hong Kong campaign is not being spent on production. But cropping out the lower half of our chief executive’s body is just sloppy and unprofessional, even for low-budget amateur work.

Perhaps there’s a long way to go before we can truly claim to have an edge in key creative sectors or in leading the creative industry of the Greater Bay Area.

A still from the Hello Hong Kong Campaign video, featuring Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu.

Mak was both right and wrong. It’s true that we didn’t need to pay a PR company to tell us where our strengths and weaknesses are. Our problem, then and now, is credibility; hence the need to convince people of what seems to us to be obvious. We shut ourselves off from the rest of the world and in doing so, allowed ourselves be misunderstood.

And we face the same challenges as we did in the wake of the protests, feeling the need to explain ourselves to a world that has misunderstood us – more so, in fact, because we have to play catch-up and counter the very negative message sent by the exodus of people over the past few years.

We are riding on a fresh wave of optimism, brought on by the relaxing of pandemic measures and the Lunar New Year, and the government is right to act quickly to get this campaign off the ground. For that reason, it can be excused for being short on details, for now.

The buzz-generating giveaway of 700,000 air tickets is a smart move. The tourism board’s “Goodies” bag – it’s also short on details but it looks like there will be consumption vouchers and welcome drinks – is a nice gesture. But do these amount to the “world’s biggest welcome ever”, as the chief executive wishfully proclaimed at the campaign launch last week?

In his own promo clip, the chief executive was selling our “new opportunities, new facilities, new experiences and so much more”, with images of The Peak (of course), amusement parks, and new buildings. Sure, great facilities make a city more liveable. Amusement parks exist fundamentally to amuse and entertain. But it seems like even our chief executive has forgotten what truly makes a city: its inhabitants.

He spoke of the opportunity for travellers to enjoy the “hustle and bustle of Asia’s world city”, which I’m not too sure has been revived yet. Even then, the campaign undersells the people of this city.

At the heart of any great city is the people. New facilities and events can’t “tell the good stories of Hong Kong”. So while freebies are great and we welcome visitors with open arms, the government needs to also convince its own people what a great place Hong Kong is. After all, we’re the ones who can tell its story best.