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34 March 2014
ryan Chan doesn’t
like to be stuck in a
rut. The Hong Kong
Institute of CPAs
member has carved
out his own niche by
sectors just as they were going through a period
“I think I’m a person who accepts a chal-
lenge,” says Chan, the Chief Financial Officer
of Travel Expert, one of Hong Kong’s biggest
travel agencies. “I don’t really want a stable
That attitude has seen him join electronics
giant Philips just as it reorganized, prepare the
company for the so-called Millennium Bug by
overseeing installation of a new software sys-
tem, and open the first Asia-Pacific office for
Accuray, a healthcare equipment company
based in the United States.
Nowadays, he’s navigating the choppy wa-
ters of the retail travel market, a business that
has undergone huge changes since the advent
of the Internet and online booking. Many people
book flights and hotels with little more than a
credit card account and a few clicks of a mouse.
However, Chan points out that the
self-booking method is far from perfect, as
anyone who has wrestled with fragile Inter-
net connections, gyrating prices and unre-
sponsive websites can testify. “ You need to
spend time to do the search,” he says.
Travel Expert ’s selling point, he adds, is
that its 400-strong sales force can deal with
the difficult nuts and bolts of booking – such
as guaranteeing prices and availability – and
the company can charge a fee for the services
rendered. “One type of customer is keen about
getting the lowest price,” he says of the do-it-
“But another [customer] is willing to spend
several hundred [dollars extra] for service,”
he adds. “In Hong Kong, middle-class families
are very busy with work, and each year they
just have two periods for travel. I don’t think
they want to spend several hours booking two
adult and two child fares, especially in the
The travel agency, says Chan, is selling con-
venience – a one-stop shop for booking flights,
hotels and travel with guaranteed travel dates
– to a growing segment of customers in Hong
Kong known in industry parlance as “free
These are mostly younger customers –
travellers under 55 – who are more confident
than those who might join a tour group but still
want the kind of bookings that offer a level of
assurance in terms of changing reser vations
and refunds in the event of cancellations.
“ This model fits with the overall mar-
ket trend,” says Chan. “ When people are at
a younger stage, they don’t like to join tours
with so many other people. They want more
freedom and more flexibility.”
Chan says Travel Expert draws on its strong
relationships with suppliers to ensure book-
ings, even at the most hectic times of the year.
“ We cannot guarantee you get the lowest fare,
but we can make sure you get a seat during the
Chan believes Travel Expert has the capacity
Hong Kong is the fourth-largest outbound travel market in the Asia-
Pacific region, behind China, Japan and Korea.
Hong Kong residents recorded about 85.3 million departures in 2012,
the latest year for which full data are available, which constituted a 0.6
percent increase over the previous year.
However, the city has the highest per-capita tourism expenditure in
the region. Tourists from Hong Kong spent about US$20.5 billion world-
wide in 2012, 6.8 percent more than the previous year, according to the
United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Hong Kong tourists are welcomed by many destinations for their
relatively lavish spending habits. They topped the spending table in
several key markets in 2012, forking out 5,200 baht a day in Thailand
and parting with more than €1,020 daily in Italy.
The enthusiasm for travel is a product of Hong Kong’s size and the
dearth of local recreational options for trips of much more than a day,
according to industry observers. “Given its limited land area and dense
population, Hongkongers tend to pack a bag and head to the airport,”
says Jeffrey Green, an Associate Director in the Transaction Advisory
practice at EY in Hong Kong who specializes in the real estate and
Hong Kong travellers are also encouraged by international immigra-
tion regulations that allow Hong Kong passport holders to visit more
than 140 countries and regions in the world without a visa. Facility in
English also spurs tourism.
The top three outbound markets for Hong Kong residents are the
Mainland and Macau – both of which have registered declining growth
in terms of numbers of tourists from Hong Kong since 2012 – and Taiwan.
The next most popular destinations are Japan, Thailand, Singapore and
Thailand, Japan, the United States (mainly to Hawaii) and the Philip-
pines are among the biggest growth markets for Hong Kong tourists in
2014, according to preliminary data.
Travel Experts’ core market, so-called “free individual travellers,” is
a significant portion of the total. They account, for example, of nearly
70 percent of visitors from Hong Kong to Japan, according to the Japan
Travel Bureau Foundation.
The global financial crisis has done little to dampen enthusiasm of
travel, EY research indicates. “The outbound travel market remained
resilient, growing about 1.5 percent per annum over the past five years,”
Outbound tourism from Hong Kong is already a mature category and
there remains little room for further growth, according to a recent report
by Euromonitor, a London-based industry research company.
It is likely that Hong Kong consumers will maintain their general
interest in taking leisure holidays outside of Hong Kong, Euromonitor
forecast, though growth might decline to less than 1 percent by 2020.
TOURISTS FROM HONG KONG
BIG SPENDERS, INDEPENDENT
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