HK organisers ask: What’s so ‘mega’ about Dior and Chubby Hearts?

Hong Kong leaders win praise for recognising economic contribution of big events, but organisers call for more understanding of local performers and venues still reeling from pandemic curbs

GOVERNMENT officials have been urged to focus more on reviving Hong Kong’s grassroots entertainment and cultural events scene alongside ambitious plans to draw “mega events”.

Fresh attempts to boost the city’s international profile include encouraging promoters to bring superstars such as Taylor Swift and Beyonce to the city.

Mega-style stage scene at Clockenflap 2023

Announcements by ministers this month have grabbed headlines and follow successive campaigns to boost Hong Kong’s appeal to investors and tourists following pandemic restrictions that hit the local events industry.

Leading figures from the city’s cultural and business events organisers have weighed in by questioning how the government defines mega-events. Activities  that have been dubbed “mega” range from an event by luxury brand Dior in March and the Chubby Hearts art installation by British fashion designer Anya Hindmarch featuring floating heart-shaped balloons on Valentine’s Day.

The regional government has set up a Mega Arts and Cultural Events Committee chaired by Adrian Cheng, CEO of property developer New World. Around 80 such events are being organised over the next few months that include “16 sporting occasions, 25 trade shows, financial summits and cultural events”, the South China Morning Post reported.

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Event organisers, however, told local radio station RTHK that a reality check was needed when it came to using the phrase “mega-event” as the publicised events were small in comparison to the prestigious concerts ministers want to see take place in the city.  

“First of all, it’s great that this administration has made such an effort and really recognises the amount of money that the events world brings to Hong Kong,” Robert Rogers, who runs Eventsman, told the Backchat programme. 

“But when you look at that list, I wouldn’t say Chubby Hearts is a mega event. It sounds cool, fantastic but mega? I’m not sure.”

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The programme heard that large-scale events featuring sports or entertainers took years of planning and Hong Kong still had mask restrictions when singer Taylor Swift’s world tour was being organised. 

Concerns were also expressed that officials were overlooking local talent and venues in favour of big-name international acts. Concerts by superstars usually ended up benefiting one or two international companies that also acted as agents for the performers. 

For overseas visitors to stay in Hong Kong before or after a concert required a vibrant nightlife, which the Backchat show heard had been wilting since Covid with restaurants coping with the latest trend of Hongkongers going across the border to Shenzhen at weekends for dining and shopping.

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“When you think of New York, for instance, you don’t necessarily go to New York too look at the big buildings and stuff, you go because there’s always going to be something happening there,” said Rogers.

“You’re always going to have a Broadway [show] or Shakespeare in the Park. There’s almost always going to be something on no matter what time of year you go.  So when you think of event capitals, there’s lots of stuff going on. It’s not about having the ‘big shows’ – it’s about having lots of stuff.”  

Simon Williamson, a percussionist and event organiser, said there was a “big-bang effect” of flying major international acts in, but the “long-term sustainability of the entertainment industry was of more concern to us”. He added that much-loved music venues have gone out of business recently.

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John Batten, an arts and culture consultant, highlighted the challenges event planners and venues face following an on-stage accident at a performance by the boyband Mirror after a video installation fell on dancers causing serious injury. He said government departments went into a panic in imposing a new licence for all types of public performance including small events.

“I think Hong Kong does mega events – Canto-pop concerts, for example, Clockenflap, Art Basel – [or] anything to do with conventions really well. In many ways these can stand alone, but I worry about the smaller events which are the lifeblood of any city,” Batten said.

“People come to a city not [just] for an event, like the Rugby Sevens, they come to enjoy the after-game in Wan Chai or Soho – but [those areas] are completely dead at the moment. The venues have died over Covid and the entertainers have also disappeared because of stricter immigrations laws.”

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