Former civil servant champions HK events

Brett Free delivers White Paper to top officials on ways to restore Hong Kong’s international status as a destination. He calls on government and organisers to seize post-Covid opportunities offered by newly revamped culture, tourism and sports bureau

LIVE-EVENT organisers in Hong Kong are being urged to engage with the regional government’s newly restructured bureau overseeing culture, tourism and sports to drive the revival of events in the city as pressure mounts on officials to dismantle Covid restrictions.

Brett Free, the former deputy director of the government’s information services department, has sent a report to the new principal official heading the combined Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau, Kevin Yeung, outlining ways to help restore and strengthen the city as an international destination for events.

The White Paper, entitled Hong Kong as an Events Capital – Opportunity Knocks, was also submitted to Chief Executive John Lee for consideration in his Policy Address. The report is also being made available lawmakers and event organisers.

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“The events sector in Hong Kong – especially live events – has sadly taken a hammering over the past two-and-a-half years,” Free said this week in a social media discussion, adding that more was needed than lifting all Covid restrictions in the city.

During his three decades working in government, the former journalist handled international PR, local and overseas events. He also worked with event organisers in helping them “navigate the bureaucracy” when staging events in Hong Kong.

He said the government shake-up that unifies official policy on sports, culture and tourism provides an opportunity to the events industry as Hong Kong counts on a recovery following the Covid slowdown.

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“This new bureau provides an opportunity to finally develop a strategy for events in HK and to establish much closer working-level contacts between the events sector and all the government and quasi-government agencies involved in that process,” Free told MIX.

I want to get a discussion going within the events sector about what needs to be done to elevate it to the level we know it is all capable of attaining

“The emphasis is very much on boosting and deepening co-operation and engagement to take the events sector to a much higher level in Hong Kong.“

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Free pointed to the “massive venue capacity” in the pipeline for Hong Kong over the next five years with Kai Tak Sports Park. West Kowloon Cultural District, Airport City, upgrades at AsiaWorld-Expo and the extension of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

There is growing anticipation in the city that officials will begin lifting curbs on venue capacity and gatherings in addition to scrapping mandatory hotel quarantine and testing for overseas arrivals. Reports hinting at the move have appeared in the local press and follow heightened criticism by business leaders of the anti-Covid measures that have resulted in the relocation of major events to Singapore.

A selection of key points in the White Paper
Major events can be an incredible soft-power tool to help Hong Kong regain its ‘mojo’ and shine again on the global stage when the time is right.
Focus on attracting and staging live and mega events over the next 2-3 years once Covid restrictions are completely lifted.
Set up an Industry Round Table to establish dialogue, listen to views and identify friction points. This would not only foster greater sharing of information and experience, it would also provide a platform for creative brainstorming and cross-sector co-operation.
Hong Kong should aim to be a global, regional and national leader in the events field – a place where people come to enjoy events as well as be inspired and learn. This would need a ‘game plan’ covering a 5- to 10-year timeline.
Clearer guidelines and processes that would encourage the private sector.
Standardise safety and environmental protocols for big events
Establish a unit similar to the government’s Film Services Office to facilitate the staging of international events.
Make more land available for outdoor events so mega events can be booked two or three years in advance.

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