Despite the flourishing scene of the tourism industry, the volatile tourist markets and growing competition from Southeast Asian countries and neighbouring destinations have posed new challenges to Hong Kong’s tourism industry. In order to strengthen Hong Kong’s position as a preferable Asian tourist destination, in recent years, Hong Kong government has started paying more attentions to sustainable tourism due to the rising environmental consciousness worldwide and tourists’ growing interests in the new forms of tourism, namely Eco-tourism and Cultural Tourism.
Projects and campaigns, such as the development of Hong Kong Wetland Park, the launch of “Cultural Kaleidoscope” and “Nature Kaleidoscope” experience programmes, and publishing tour guidebooks- “Discover Hong Kong Nature” and “Discover Hong Kong by Rail” were introduced to promote green tourism and cultural tourism (GovHK, 2009). These promotion schemes have been launched with the aim to sustain the tourism industry by diversifying the tourism products to cater to the changing and diverse needs of inbound tourist market.
Despite the development is on track of continued growth which has aroused tourists’ interests to look at “the other sides” of Hong Kong, many issues are needed to take into consideration due to the complex nature of sustainable tourism and the large number of stakeholders involved in. There is criticism from public that throughout these schemes, little attention has been paid to develop the tourism as a whole and a truly sustainable one since the schemes are still carried out in a loose manner without a thorough policy. The most significant issues are environmental ustainability and cultural sustainability due to the most recent focus of government on these issues and their importance to the sustainable development. Environmental Sustainability Country parks and nature reserves make up 40 percent of Hong Kong's total land area of some 1,100 square kilometres (Ling, 2007). Regarding the relative ample resources and the initial success of Wetland Parks, Hong Kong government recognized the green potential in Hong Kong tourism and has aggressively proposed numbers of Green initiatives recently, such as the Lantau North Country Park and Marine Park, Geoparks as well as cycle tracks and mountain bike trails.
However, regarding these proposed projects, inadequate concerns have been given to the carrying capacity of these natural resources as well as the cost of construction. It is found that the conservational practices are not carried out in a strict manner as a case in Kam Tin Wetland and Hoi Ha Wan marine reserve, which are two well-known ecological attractions in Hong Kong, were reported in suffering wastage problems (Cheung, 2006).
Another typical example is a member of Advisory Council on the Environment opposed to the proposal of Lantau North Country Park concerning the development of transport linkage of Tung Chung Road would damage the ecology of the areas. It aroused conservationists’ concern that government’s overemphasis on bringing in the tourist dollars will keep tourist agencies and residents focused on generating large-scale projects but putting little concern on making low-impact sustainable tourism (Crets, 2006).
From the projects being carried out or proposed, it shows government’s interests on large scale investment but not much effort and support given to the details, such as the carrying capacity of the ecological resources. It implies government emphasized on the profit making and lacked of a whole-heartedly attitudes towards sustainable tourism. There is no doubt that green tourism has a large potential to become one of the major tourism sectors in Hong Kong with its educational and sustainable meaning as well as the economic benefits resulted from the rising awareness of this market.
However, sustainability should not put mainly on the economic side since sustainability of tourist attractions, i. e. , the ecological sites and the heritage, is the core value of sustainable tourism. Although the government claimed that it has been keen on “promoting green tourism in Northeast New Territories and outlying islands having regard to the principles of nature conservation and sustainable development. (GovHK, 2009), it is doubtful that, regarding its policy on green tourism, whether Hong Kong government has a clear and accurate vision for mass tourism that will incorporate the natural environment. Tourism should be regarded as a tool for ecological and heritage preservation but not the other way round, otherwise there is no true meaning of sustainable tourism. Apparently, there is still much room for improvement regarding the policy as more concern and control should be placed over the environmental sustainability so as not to override the economic sustainability on the environmental sustainability.
The success of green tourism is largely dependent on effectiveness of government on planning and management to minimize the impact to environment and the effective distribution of ecological resources. One of the measures suggested to the government is to have strict control on the environmental conservations instead of focusing on constructing more attractions and promoting the markets. The carrying capacity of the green attractions should be carefully studied and controlled by imposing strict regulations on the visitor numbers and their behaviours.
Besides, due to the rising demand, eco-guides’ demand is stretching, thus setting legal standards for eco-guides as well as providing training for nurturing the expertise are in urgent needs to cope with the stretched demand as well as to educate the appropriate behaviours in the ecologist attractions (Chong, 2007). Cultural Sustainability Due to the diversification in Hong Kong’s culture which is positioned as East-meet-West, Hong Kong has been recently facing the demands of constructing an identity reflected in choices about what heritage to conserve and how to present it (Henderson, 2002).
With the current trend of globalization and mass movement of people, issues of cultural identity and cultural preservation continue to be explored. Recently, Hong Kong has been keen on developing attractions to enhance Hong Kong’s cultural image, one of the fine examples is the proposed cultural venues, the West Kowloon Cultural District. Besides building new cultural venues, preserving and promoting Hong Kong’s tangible and intangible heritage are accounted as other measures to showcase Hong Kong’s mixed culture.
Examples like preservation and development of the former Marine Police Headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui into a tourism facility by the private sector, “1881 Heritage”, and HKTB’s promotion of traditional Chinese customs and festivals such as the Tin Hau Festival parade in Yuen Long and Cha Kwo Ling, Tam Kung Festival in Shaukeiwan, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival and the Birthday of Lord Buddha celebrations at Po Lin Monastery. Despite these efforts, several problems are found regarding Hong Kong’s culture and heritage sustainability policy.
It is found that Hong Kong has been relatively slow in developing its potential heritage sites into tourist attractions, as seen in the controversy over the fate of Tiger Balm Garden and the Central Police Station. According to Chu and Uebegang (2002), the sluggish and passive response of government reflects the lack of political will due to a lack of understanding of the principles of heritage and its potential. The Government believes heritage conservation should be driven by tourism and economics and not treated in the same way as other social and education services.
Even with the setting up of Heritage Tourism Task Force which is established in 1998, there have been very few recommendations proposed by the task force. Some critics have blamed on its lack of leadership and lack of influence in the government bureaucracy (Chu and Uebegang, 2002). Other problems implied in the policy of government are lack of a broad-based, long-term conservation policy, lack of a clear priorities and inadequate co-ordination of government departments involved in present heritage conservation practice.
Besides, in most cultural heritage development, public involvement in decision-making is absent. Regarding these problem, it is essential for government to change its attitude and strike for a more holistic vision and policy towards the cultural heritage conservation. It is due to the challenge faced by Hong Kong that it has long promoted its culture as an exciting fusion of East-meet-West and traditional-meet-contemporary, which may cause it falling in a danger of overemphasizing on international style attractions and a loss of actual distinctiveness.
Development may follow a common path to create uniform of tourism features which convey similar image to the tourists. Therefore, the cultural and heritage conservations are essential in the tourism development as it helps to maintain a unique sense of place and difference as intrinsic merit to secure its competitive advantages and reposition the image besides an international metropolitan with the colonial history. Apart from these problems of fragmented policy and vision, the management issue of the cultural heritage has been another concern by the conservationist and researchers.
Since the cultural and heritage tourism requires a cautious approach with sensitivity, research, and community involvement due to its core value is to convey the value to and engage present generations without betraying the spirit of the previous generations’ experiences. It is important and beneficial to involve the participation of those people and groups who are most closely related to the significance of the heritage area. Without this, it is difficult to achieve substantive conservation. In Hong Kong, there is lack of cooperation with and involvement of the locals or the significant cultural group.
It is, therefore, suggested to involve the local community at the planning and operation level which can enhance the sustainability of the projects as well as prevent the problem of being too commercialized which affecting the authenticity and integrity of the heritage. Referring to the need of involvement of local community, certain level of empowerment is essential which can be regarded as community based tourism. It broadly described as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people. It requires tourism activities to be primarily developed and operated by members of the local community and that revenues from tourism remain within the local community. Respect for local culture, heritage and traditions is imperative. CBT teaches the visitor to behave responsibly and respectfully towards nature and native culture, and offers activities that give the visitor an understanding and appreciation of the area without degrading it. Most importantly of all, it can reserve the sustainable resources and reduce the impacts to the community daily life at the minimum level.
Conclusion Tourism is most ideally suited to adopt sustainability as a guiding philosophy in sustainable developmemnt (McKercher, 2003). However, mismanaging sustainable tourism will turn it into a curse as it will damage the ecological and heritage attractions in more direct ways. According to McKercher (2003), sustainable tourism is built around four pillars of tourism, namely economic sustainability, ecological sustainability, cultural sustainability and local sustainability, all these four elements must be addressed if we are to achieve sustainable tourism.
It is found that recently Hong Kong government is striking for sustainable tourism, however, there is a lack of broad view and holistic policy to support the efforts. Unregulated short-term initiatives which serve the narrow interests of powerful forces in the industry may jeopardize the sustainability and longer-term tourism potential of many communities upon which majority interests are based (Brohman, 1996). It is therefore important for government to be aware of the future planning must be holistic, strategic and long-term.
Laws, procedures and systems for planning, preservation, development and management should be adjusted or created to ensure that the development of the project is undertaken in ways that are consistent with the principles of sustainability. Besides, all these should be applied to a culture of caring for the environment, therefore the concepts of preservation and sustainable development should be fostered and encouraged within the government and the community so as to ensure the true and holistic meaning of sustainable tourism.