All that glitters

Hong Kong’s arsenal of generous subvention schemes, destination advocacy by business leaders across industries, and intensified marketing are working in unison to bring the sparkle back to Asia’s events city

Fortunes are turning in Hong Kong’s business events industry, following long years marked by social unrest and the Covid pandemic; new and returning events have filled 2023’s calendar, with more to come in 2024.

According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), 98 per cent of regular B2B shows were back in action as of September 2023. The city used to conduct almost 90 international tradeshows every year pre-pandemic. Furthermore, total events in Hong Kong during the first nine months of 2023 brought with them some 850,000 overnight MICE visitors, which was about 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s pre-pandemic numbers.

A returning event that HKTB regards as a triumph is Asia Fruit Logistica, which left Hong Kong in 2019 and went on to hold editions in Singapore and Thailand.

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Speaking to TTGmice, Kenneth Wong, general manager of MICE & cruise, Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB), recalled: “At that time, we did not realise how big an impact the event’s exit made on Hong Kong. We knew we had to bring it back. We needed to tell the Hong Kong story again, and have Asia Fruit Logistica recognise the value Hong Kong would bring to the event, its exhibitors, and its attendees. We kept up communications throughout the pandemic, and were focused on rebuilding our relationship.”

That courtship paid off. The 2023 edition was held from September 6-8 at the AsiaWorld-Expo. It was a “successful comeback”, stated Wong, who added that space on site was “sold out two months before the show”.

Illustrating the intense business interest in Asia Fruit Logistica, Wong said that although the last day had to be cancelled due to a typhoon, two-day transactions broke pre-pandemic records.

“Asia Fruit Logistica is a very special event because it is a genuinely international show – 80 to 90 per cent of attendees are international,” he added.

When asked what factors are catalysing the recovery of Hong Kong’s standing in the competitive world of business events, Wong pointed to generous subvention schemes, destination advocacy by business leaders across industries, intensified marketing, and the city’s ability to connect the world with China.

Hong Kong sits within the thriving Greater Bay Area (GBA), which China’s Guangdong Province and Macau are also part of. The population of Guangdong Province alone is 86 million despite occupying just one per cent of China’s land area; it contributes 11 per cent to China’s national GDP. The province is also home to many MNCs and unicorns, with 25 Fortune 500 companies located there, especially in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Marilyn Tham, Meetings & Exhibitions Hong Kong’s deputy general manager MICE, said: “Many tradeshows have returned to Hong Kong because of the lure of GBA. Hong Kong was positioned as the world’s meeting place for a long time, but with the rise of GBA, Hong Kong is now the MICE hub for the wider region. When organisers hold their events in Hong Kong, they can easily boost delegate numbers due to the GBA population and great connectivity around the area via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the high-speed rail that links Hong Kong with China’s Shenzhen in just 20 minutes. They also have easier access to Fortune 500 companies that are potential sponsors.”

HKTB makes two propositions that highlight the city’s geographical advantage. The Meet Hong Kong, Meet GBA campaign speaks to international organisers, underscoring the operational ease they will enjoy by hosting events in Hong Kong targeting attendees and sponsors from the GBA.

On the other hand, the Meet Hong Kong, Meet the World campaign is built on the desire of GBA event organisations and associations to position their event on the global stage and connect with international delegates.

At the same time, generous subvention schemes contribute to Hong Kong’s strategy to rebuild its events city reputation. In its 2023-24 budget, the Hong Kong government pumped an additional HK$200 million (US$25.6 million) into funding HKTB’s efforts to secure more business events for the destination.

The funding joins an incentive scheme for recurring exhibitions, announced in October 2022. Running from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2026, its offers qualified exhibitions held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld-Expo full venue rental rebate, while other recurring shows will get an incentive equivalent to 50 per cent of the venue rental, capped at HK$20 million per exhibition.

Wong said: “There is a saying that money can’t buy everything. Yet, without money, you can’t do anything. So, subvention support is… one of the main factors influencing event organisers’ decisions, especially since they are all much more budget-conscious than before due to current and forecasted economic conditions.”

Irene Chan, CEO, AsiaWorld-Expo, commended the support, saying: “Right now, most event themes in Hong Kong are around electronics, fashion and jewellery. With support (for recurring events), organisers are more willing to explore new exhibitions here since staging their events will come with reduced financial requirements.”

Wong acknowledged “intense competition” for events in the Asia-Pacific region, and said Hong Kong must be “more flexible and aggressive” to beat its rivals. Besides generous subvention support, Hong Kong has also streamlined the approval process for subvention applications.

“This is critical for event organisers, as many are fighting to catch up on lost time (throughout the pandemic disruption). They need to reactivate their bid process rapidly and over short notice. Our ability to respond swiftly will impact our success rate in the bidding process,” he said.

Events supported by these schemes will materialise in the years to come.

Most recently, the growing appeal of Hong Kong as a business events destination was emphasised by RX Global’s decision to debut IBTM Asia Pacific in the city come 2025. The event is regarded as one of the most important trade engagements among global business events professionals.

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