Biz event leaders urge HK Gov to change course

Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association says many organisers will go under in a year if harsh quarantine rules on vaccinated business travellers are not changed; subsidy scheme for international events of little or no help

NEARLY half of Hong Kong’s events industry operators will close in 12 months unless a government subsidy scheme is changed and stringent quarantine rules for vaccinated business travellers are eased, the city’s main association for international MICE organisers has warned.

The Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association (HKECIA) presented the findings of its latest member survey into the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on the local industry to the SAR Government’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.

Organisers of international events in the city are unable to use the government’s Convention and Exhibition Industry Subsidy Scheme due to travel restrictions and compulsory quarantine, the association said in a statement issued yesterday.

Backgrounder… HK exhibitor backing comes with a warning

The measures have meant “zero international trade events in Hong Kong” and has forced HKECIA to make “an urgent call for the government’s immediate financial assistance from the local convention and exhibition industry players struggling to survive over the Covid-19 storm”.

Unless action government takes action on the subsidy scheme and international business travel , “45 per cent of industry players may close down in 12 months”, HKECIA said.

The association wants the government to develop a road map of relaxing travel restrictions for business travellers so that organisers of international trade fairs can plan ahead the recruitment of exhibitors and buyers.  It warned that any delay “will result in losing Hong Kong’s advantages and major international events to other countries”.

Business loss:
– from the organiser responses, 136 exhibitions and conferences have been cancelled or postponed since February 2020. These events were expected to draw over 99,000 exhibiting companies and over 4.8 million of visitors;
– 93% of respondents claim that the impact of Covid-19 on their business is severe or extremely severe; and
– all respondents project a loss of revenue in the year 2021, with 37% of event organisers and 29% of non-event organisers projecting a loss of over HK$50 million in 2021.

Impact of compulsory quarantine requirements:
– 100% of organiser respondents claim that quarantine-free travel for overseas participants is important for them to run and materialise their events;
– 75% of those who organise international events in Hong Kong say that they will move their international events from Hong Kong to other countries if the travel restrictions in Hong Kong are not removed by the end of 2021; and
– 45% out of all respondents can only survive for 12 months or less, if the current travel restrictions remain till the end of 2021, or if no further financial assistance is received by the end of 2021.

Under the HKSAR Anti-epidemic Fund, HK$620 million of a HK$1.02 billion subsidy scheme is set aside for private organisers of exhibitions and international conventions who hire space at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld-Expo. The scheme lets them claim back the full rental for events held at the venues until June 2022.
However, organisers have been unable to recruit overseas exhibitors and buyers to participate in their events due to the travel restrictions and compulsory quarantine requirements. This has resulted in events being cancelled or postponed to 2022 without any benefit from the subsidy scheme.

As of June 30, 2021, the scheme provided a total subsidy of only around HK$97.38 million to 42 exhibitions, the HKECIA survey found.

Stuart Bailey

Association chairman Stuart Bailey said: “The convention and exhibition industry, which contributed over HK$58 billion to Hong Kong’s economy in 2018, has been in deep water since February 2020 as no international event was able to be held in Hong Kong due to travel restrictions and preventive measures. Only small-scale consumer exhibitions resumed.

“The subsidy scheme, however, is only able to assist the convention and exhibition sector once it is practicable for events to resume, a point which trade fair organisers have yet to reach.

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“We urge the government to repurpose the Subsidy Scheme and provide immediate and additional financial assistance for event-related service providers. Our industry also needs a roadmap to prepare for a strong revival,” Bailey said.

The HKECIA Member Survey was conducted from August 2-13 among 101 members.  Sixty responded and completed the survey, with 36% being event organisers and 64% non-organisers (including contractors, freight forwarders, travel agents, AV equipment suppliers, and design houses among others).

Respondents also said the government’s assistance was insufficient with 55 per cent of event organisers claiming they did not benefit from the subsidy scheme as they were not able to run international trade fairs or conferences.

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