Organisers pick Macau, Thailand as Hong Kong turmoil takes toll

Thailand and Macau are among the destinations being chosen by organisers who have switched their events from Hong Kong as violent street protests discourage visitors, writes Martin Donovan.

Tourist arrivals fell 40 per cent in August compared to the same month last year, according to Hong Kong government figures.

Paul Chan, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s financial secretary, said the hotel sector had seen business drop by 50 per cent, despite lowering room rates to between 40 and 70 per cent.   

Officials in Thailand told MIX that convention bureau staff were dealing with a surge in inquiries from organisers seeking to switch their events from Hong Kong to Bangkok. This comes amid street protests that have gripped the city since June 21 and continued with disruptions targeting the airport and the MTR subway system.

More: TCEB highlights Bangkok and Hua Hin

“We have had a few inquiries from Hong Kong organisers to bring their events here to Thailand and those are under discussion,” Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau senior vice president, Nichipa Nosawee said.

Nichipa declined to name the events but said a “good number” were international exhibitions including an e-sports event.

An organiser who works on events across the Pearl Delta – or Greater Bay Area – and who did not want to be named told MIX that he was working on three medium-sized conferences that have been relocated from Hong Kong hotels to Macau.  

The Hong Kong disturbances were also a topic of discussion on the fringes of the Thailand MICE Forum in Bangkok where business travel leaders were informed of two incentive programmes being prepared for a switch to the Thai capital.

“My hope is that it will really start to simmer down and things get back on track,” said Philip Eidsvold, president of the incentive travel organisers association SITE. “But every time there is a political disruption like that there will be headwind and they’ll have to really work hard to get out from under it.

“We as an association work really hard to parent with those destinations that are in difficulty or distress so that when things do indeed settle down we will help them to be sure that their messaging is clear that it’s a great place to bring your business.”

More on this: Organisers pray for cooler heads to prevail

A similarly upbeat message was made by Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre as buyers and exhibitors gave their backing to the city as the trade show season got underway on September 6.

“Hong Kong is a hub where everybody comes to do business. We are pleased to meet with buyers from all over the world, and get contacts which we would not be able to get from anywhere else,” said Robert Harvey, a representative of Larmes who was attending the HKTDC Watch and Clock Fair.

Hungarian buyer Laszlo Bakonyi, of BTech Innovation Technology, sounded an even more positive note: “You can find thousands and thousands of suppliers here. There is nothing to be worried about in the current situation of Hong Kong.”

Though Hong Kong financial secretary Chan added that blocking of transport links to the airport had harmed Hong Kong's image as a safe city and tarnished its reputation as an international trade, aviation and finance hub, local industry leaders were nonetheless keen to assure organisers that the city was open for international events.

In a statement issued on August 27, Stuart Bailey, chairman of the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Industry Association, said: “Business is as usual in Hong Kong. At this time we are seeing that major exhibitions and conferences in Hong Kong are running without incident or interruption.

“Of course visitors should take care and be mindful of areas in which protests might be taking place and take note of any special traffic arrangements such as temporary road closures and disruptions on public transport. But it’s worth remembering that Hong Kong is consistently ranked one of the safest cities in the world.”

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