No sooner had Hong Kong Tourism Board welcomed an additional HK$80 million funding in the regional government’s 2015-16 Budget, that Peter Lam, the board’s chairman, rounded on arguably the biggest event to descend on the city over the past year: the Occupy protests.
Lam said the protests that closed key thoroughfares in the Admiralty and Mong Kok areas of the city for much of the last quarter of 2014 had “affected the intention of international visitors to travel to Hong Kong”, according to a HKTB statement.
He hammered home his point at a UFI Asia gathering where he told exhibition industry leaders that the Occupy movement and more recent protests against cross-border travellers, who visit Hong Kong to stock up on household goods before selling them when they return to mainland China, had “damaged the city’s image”.
To many event planners in the city, the outcry – coming four months after the protestors were cleared from the streets – is a tad melodramatic. After all, exhibition organisers were among the first to issue a statement as the protests gathered pace last October claiming Occupy was having little affect on their events.
However, problems for event planners did mount with cancellations and logistical challenges, causing many to wonder why students and their supporters were allowed to lay siege to sections of the city for so long.
The additional government revenue will be going towards marketing “in order to uphold Hong Kong’s image as the most preferred travel destination in the world”. A laudable aim, no doubt, but already DMCs and event planners say too many questions relating to business tourism are being left unanswered.
Gunther Homerlein, of Destination China, has been among the first to ask whether the MICE industry will be getting a portion of that marketing spend.
Perhaps their questions are best answered with a relatively low profile event held at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong by the HKTB’s Meeting and Event Hong Kong. It fell on the weekend after the Lunar New Year Holiday – a relatively quiet period – that saw scores of travel organisers from Indonesia, India and mainland China honoured for bringing thousands of business event delegates to Hong Kong.
According to tourism officials, these numbers contributed to an 11 per cent increase in overnight stays during 2014. Many of these groups would have arrived months before students took to the streets – but even so, how far was Hong Kong's image really tarnished by the Occupy movement?
The additional funding for HKTB is also being directed to short-haul travel with bonuses being contributed from the retail sector, especially those selling electronic goods. They have to be kept happy too. Maybe business event organisers will have to wait in line behind the market segments most vexed by the Occupy movement and who have been buttonholing Dr Lam.
Martin Donovan is the Editor of MIX