Push for ‘soft power’ connectivity
2017-10-23, YANG HAN in Macao

‘Soft power” connection is crucial to the tourism industry as cooperation among cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area steps up to the next level.

Bao Jigang, an expert from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), said measures like juxtaposed border controls, speeding up visa approvals and improving flight punctuality will all be beneficial for soft-power connectivity.

“We need to think from a national strategic level, while promoting coordinated and synergized cooperation within the region,” said Bao, director of the Monitoring Center for UNWTO Sustainable Tourism Observatories, explaining that past cooperation has unleashed great market potential for the bay area, making it China’s gateway for inbound and outbound tourism. 

He was speaking in Macao on Oct 17 at a China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable event themed Regional Collaboration — China Perspective: The Greater Bay Area — Visionary Collaboration in the Making. It was held on the sidelines of the Global Tourism Economy Forum. 

First detailed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in March, the Greater Bay Area is formed by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Macao Special Administrative Region and nine cities in South China’s Guangdong province — Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Dongguan, Huizhou, Zhongshan, Foshan, Zhaoqing and Jiangmen. It aims to develop a city cluster around southern China’s Pearl River Delta. 

“The cooperation of the Greater Bay Area is a very important milestone to promote the regional tourism industry,” said Bao.

Wen Zongduo, deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific, said this is the area in southern China where three waterways — the Pearl River, Xiangjiang River and Haojiang River — converge, “and they are creating a miracle”. 

Bao noted that the bay area had made good progress in terms of “hardware” development in aviation, road and maritime transportation. 

He said the Greater Bay Area has one of the most advanced transportation networks in the world, and will be further developed with projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge.

Bao added that the cities should be prepared for benign competition and so develop the area as a whole. “At present, the Greater Bay Area has made the region more diverse, and this diversity will be more attractive to travelers around the world.”

Jia Yucheng, deputy director of the planning and finance department of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), said the Greater Bay Area, as the most developed region in terms of the China economy, plays an important role in the nation’s economic growth.

“Since China’s opening up and the return of Hong Kong and Macao to China, there is an increasing tendency of integration in this region with better cooperation in tourism,” Jia said.

He suggested the area can gain from the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, serving as a connection point along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. He said the CNTA will further facilitate the tourism industry within the region, such as introducing a 144-hour easy visa policy. 

Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to revive the ancient Silk Road routes.

Jia said it is crucial to identify the unique advantages of each city and promote a connected travel route to bring benefits for all. To achieve this, marine tourism, “one journey, multi-destination” tourism and more diverse offerings like yachting and cruises will be supported.

“We will support the young people in the Greater Bay Area in their communication and cooperation,” Jia said. “We will support them to embark on study visits in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.” 

Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, director of the Macao Government Tourism Office, said that cooperation within the Greater Bay Area actually started many years ago. “Macao has also worked a lot in improving the tourism cooperation, especially in the concept of ‘one journey, multi-destination’,” she said.

Fernandes also expects that Macao, given the marine area management rights it was allocated by the central government at the end of 2015, can develop marine tourism.

Cathy Chu, commissioner at the Hong Kong Tourism Commission, wants to see the Greater Bay Area’s abundant tourism resources tapped. She said the cities should explore creative ways of cooperation.

“In the new age of tourism, what tourists want from travel is not just eating and shopping but also a local experience,” said Chu, adding that the Greater Bay Area can take advantage of its plentiful cultural and green resources. 

Chu also hopes the 11 cities can build a better information exchange platform, identifying what kind of tourism products the market wants most.

Besides cooperation among the governments within the Greater Bay Area, more support from the central government is also needed to build the area into a non-barrier tourism zone and world-class destination, according to Zeng Yingru, director-general of the Tourism Administration of Guangdong Province.

Zeng said her organization is already conducting research with institutions and city governments about what the transportation systems can bring to the area’s tourism market and how it can be a tourism cooperation zone of high quality. 

Comparing it with the world’s other bay area economic zones, such as in San Francisco, New York and Tokyo, Sio Chi-wai, president of the Macao Development Strategy Research Centre, said the Greater Bay Area has distinct advantages under the policy of one country, two systems. 

Sio was referring to the arrangement under which the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions retain their capitalist economic systems and way of life for 50 years after reunification with China. 

“Also, while other bay (area) economic zones only have one city to lead their development, we can coordinate the potential and advantages of different cities for a shared and diverse development,” Sio said.

Song Haiyan, associate dean and chair professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management, noted that from manufacturing to tourism, various industry clusters have been concentrated within the bay area during the past 20 to 30 years since China’s reform and opening-up. 

“In the next 20 to 30 years, with the development of the Greater Bay Area and the Belt and Road Initiative, it is possible that China will see another 30 years of rapid growth in its economy,” said Song, also president of the International Association for Tourism Economics. “Tourism, together with industries like finance, modern manufacturing and high technology, will push the economic development of the region, the country, and even other countries along the Belt and Road to a higher level.”

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