‘No events equals zero cash’

Hong Kong exhibition industry leaders present government officials with survey findings showing huge losses expected for companies and organisers urging more support as Covid-19 hits business hard

BUSINESS EVENT leaders in Hong Kong say organisers and suppliers have yet to see any support from a government subsidy scheme and urged more action to help the local industry ride out the Covid-19 downturn.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Industry Association (HKCEIA) leaders have called on the city’s government for “immediate financial and policy support” for the industry in addition to the Convention and Exhibition Industry Subsidy Scheme, which was deferred last month.

The subsidy was put on hold as Hong Kong battled a third wave of coronavirus outbreaks with measures such as compulsory mask wearing and tighter restrictions on social gatherings imposed.

Stuart Bailey

This has meant further cancellations or postponements of events planned for the summer as hopes rose of Covid coming under control after successive days of zero recorded outbreaks were dashed with the latest surge of the coronavirus.

HKECIA chairman Stuart Bailey led a delegation to meet representatives of the regional government’s commerce and economic development bureau on August 11 and presented the findings of a survey carried out among association members outlining the severe toll the situation was taking on businesses.

Some 91 per cent of survey respondents said the Subsidy Scheme’s commitment of HK$1.02 billion (about US$129m) was insufficient.

Part of the scheme is to provide private organisers with free venue rental for exhibitions and international conventions held at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld-Expo.

The deferment of the July 24 start day for the scheme has resulted in more events being cancelled with organisers yet to receive any subsidy.

“No event being held means that there has been zero cash generated by organisers, venues, and suppliers to the industry,” Bailey said.

More… ‘Thanks… but it’s small beer’

“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 we have yet to reach.

“Only four small-scale consumer exhibitions took place from February to July. All other exhibitions and conventions scheduled to take place have not been held.

“We urge the government to provide immediate and additional financial assistance for event organisers and event-related service providers,” Bailey said.

Organisers also face financial loss as some would have already given discounts on participation fees to exhibitors.

Cash hope for HK’s exhibitions industry

HKECIA also urged assistance for event suppliers, such as audio-visual companies and stand builders, who are not covered by the subsidy scheme.

The HKECIA survey, conducted July 23 to 30, among all 115 HKECIA members saw 59 responding and completing the survey. Of these, 31 per cent are event organisers and 69 per cent “non-organisers” such as suppliers.

The call for Hong Kong government ministers to take further action to help the business events industry comes as Singapore announced further wage subsidies to help protect jobs in sectors such as tourism and aviation.

The HKECIA survey includes key findings on business loss:

  • From the 18 organiser respondents alone, 52 exhibitions and conferences have been cancelled or postponed. These events were expected to draw over 54,000 exhibiting companies and over 3.4 million visitors;
  • 98% of respondents described the impact of Covid-19 on their business is either severe or extremely severe;
  • 89% of organiser respondents and 59% of non-organisers project more than 12 months for their business to recover; and
  • All organisers respondents project a loss of revenue in year 2020 with 36% of them projecting a loss of over HK$100 million for 2020.

Also, three big frustrations:

  • Loss incurred by postponement or cancellation of events;
  • Lower market demand; and
  • Uncertainty due to government policy, for example on social distancing, immigration control and compulsory quarantine regulation.

Organisers said it was impossible to move forward with exhibitor recruitment and overseas buyer promotion due to uncertainty about the pandemic, travel restrictions and when the subsidy scheme would start.

HKECIA members also used the survey to call on the government to:

  • Exercise greater flexibility for the compulsory quarantine regulations imposed on foreign business travellers if they come with valid health documents. For instance, if travellers are tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours before their flights to Hong Kong, they can enter and stay in the city for up to seven days without compulsory quarantine.
  • Speed up the formation of “travel bubbles” with countries and regions with few Covid-19 cases.
  • Extend the subsidy scheme period from 12 to 24 months as some organisers project the industry will need more than 12 months to recover.

“Apart from immediate financial assistance, we seek clarity from the government on matters relating to travel restrictions, and to demand much greater transparency around the reviews of the compulsory quarantine arrangements for countries [and] regions that have a good record against the pandemic,” Bailey said.

He stressed that the exhibition industry played a critical role for the Hong Kong economy and contributed significant economic benefits to the city by generating spin-offs for related industries, such as hotels, restaurants, transport and retail.

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