THE BOSS of an events agency has spoken of his anger and frustration after a multinational corporation relocated an event worth HK$2 million from Hong Kong to Singapore due to the Chinese region’s zero-Covid policy.
Around 50 people would have been working on production, entertainment, audiovisual installations, event and onsite management, said the agency owner who requested anonymity due to commercial sensitivity surrounding the event.
He said the multinational decided to switch to Singapore because uncertainty continued to prevail in Hong Kong over policies such as mandatory quarantine, PCR-testing requirements after arrival and capacity limits on venues.
The client company “desperately” wanted to hold its event in Hong Kong where it had its regional HQ and a staff of 50. Some 200 overseas delegates would have been spending additional revenue with local businesses through at least three hotel nights, restaurants and transport had the event gone ahead.
The combined conference and incentive had been in the pipeline for eight months from the early negotiating stages to getting the mandate to plan the event, the agency boss said.
Both the agency and the client felt a “ray of hope” when Hong Kong’s finance minister, Paul Chan, announced a banking summit scheduled to coincide with the return of the Rugby Sevens after two years.
Around a hundred global banking and finance chiefs have been invited to the two-day summit organised by the government. However, some have reportedly voiced concerns about being granted special treatment via quarantine exemptions. Reports have also emerged, and have been denied by the city’s health minister, that senior government officials are at loggerheads over whether to continue a “dynamic zero-Covid policy” aimed at controlling the virus.
Problem is that government leaders are giving conflicting signals. They’re acting like Covid 19 is the Bubonic Plague and everybody knows it’s not,” the event company owner told MIX.
“The client could no longer take the risk of hoping that the government would relent – and none of their delegates would have been willing to spend three days in hotel quarantine followed by four more days of testing and not being allowed into venues or restaurants.
Save-the-date notices had already been issued to company staff, the design stage for the event had already begun with two venues and side events for top management arranged.
“The company desperately wanted to do the event in Hong Kong. They had looked at other cities: KL, Singapore and Bangkok but were really keen to do it in Hong Kong because it’s where they have the regional headquarters, senior management and key staff.
“We were in close contact for months and built a nice rapport. Suddenly we get the call yesterday and they said, ‘Look, we’ve held out as long as we could; the event is due in November. We cannot chance further delays,’” the agency boss said after being told of the decision on Monday.
“We are losing events to Singapore for no other reason than Singapore has entered the realm of reality in that they are not going to defeat Covid. l think most of the people in Hong Kong have already stopped pretending that is going to happen.
“Every single day that goes by the Hong Kong government is losing credibility. Having met some of them, I know that none of these ministers lack intelligence, but they are acting indecisive and are highly condescending with the Hong Kong people by going in front of them and not saying the obvious. This makes people more frustrated.
Businesses like mine are waiting for the HK government to finally acquiesce and realise that this zero-Covid stand is having no impact whatsoever on the rates of infection here, or on sickness and fatalities. Basically, it’s not working and our client realised this.
Revenue has dropped 90 per cent for the owner’s company from 2019. “What’s happened to me is just a microcosm of what is happening to the events industry here,” he said.
Though officials are still wrangling on how to limit gatherings and control F&B intake at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, the agency boss said event organisers are getting involved with corporate-box events. But he said officials were still trying to impose limits on gatherings and crowd flow in and out of private suites at Hong Kong Stadium.
“On a positive note, we are getting many calls from clients that want to do stuff pending the HK government opening up.”