With a declining number of mainland visitors and slumping retail sales to match, Hong Kong is betting on the success of smash hit comedy Lost in Hong Kong to turn its luck around with Chinese tourists.
While Chinese travelers are flocking to destinations like Japan to shop for the current Golden Week, Hong Kong retailers are describing the holiday period as “the worst ever” thanks to the lower number of mainland Chinese visitors, according to reports. Once-crowded shopping areas reportedly feel empty, while luxury shops are no longer seeing long lines of mainland shoppers. But even though shopping areas are struggling, mainland tourist numbers are actually up for Golden Week, and Lost in Hong Kong’s record-setting weekend performance after its September 25 debut may mean there’s a brighter future in store for them.
The Xu Zheng-directed installment of the franchise that created surprise blockbuster Lost in Thailand has made close to $205 million in its first 10 days after setting an opening weekend box office record for Chinese films by bringing in $107 million. The film is projected to surpass the monumental success of its 2012 predecessor Lost in Thailand, which grossed $208 million and also set the record for Chinese-language films at the time. Like Lost in Thailand, the film shows a middle-aged professional being followed by a young, idealistic, and bumbling travel companion through iconic tourist sites in Hong Kong as they get into crazy adventures.
Hong Kong tourism officials are hoping that the film will give a much-needed boost to Chinese traveler numbers, which fell by 9.8 percent in July as retail sales declined for their fifth straight month. In early September, the Hong Kong Tourism Board teamed up with one of the tourism attractions in the film, observation deck sky100, to create special travel packages related to the film that will be available through 40 different travel agents and online booking sites.
Tourism officials have good reason for high hopes thanks to Lost in Thailand’s success in generating Chinese visitor number growth—after the film was released in 2012, Chinese tourist numbers to Thailand rose by 93 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Popular Chinese films about travel have been known to have a significant effect on Chinese travelers’ destination choices. This year, Chinese romantic drama Somewhere Only We Know, which was set in Prague, spurred so much demand to visit that more direct flights between Beijing and Prague were introduced at the beginning of September.
Hong Kong isn’t the only destination betting on the success of the Lost in Thailand franchise to attract Chinese tourists. Xu Zheng will also direct and star in a new film in the franchise called Lost in India as the result of an agreement signed between China and India during India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May in an attempt to boost India’s relatively low number of Chinese visitors.
But it takes more than a film to make a destination the latest hotspot for Chinese tourists. The film can’t change the variety of factors causing Hong Kong’s current mainland visitor slump, including Hong Kongers’ anti-mainland sentiment that has boiled over into violent protests in major shopping areas, cheaper retail prices in Japan and South Korea thanks to the currency situation, and new restrictions on mainland visitors meant to curb parallel trading. For now, retailers and tour operators have to wait and see if the allure created by the film is enough to inspire more Chinese visitors to head to Hong Kong in spite of these obstacles.