MICE and tourism stakeholders have welcomed extended government support, following the latest 2021/22 budget announced by Hong Kong financial secretary Paul Chan on 24 February.
The government has allocated an additional HK$765 million (US$98.62 million) for the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) to “set up promotion and revive the tourism industry when the epidemic is over,” said Chan in the budget speech earlier this week. This is on top of a HK$934 million financial aid to the tourism sector, including HK$169 million earmarked “to take forward local cultural, heritage and creative tourism projects,” beef up facilities on the city’s hiking trails, continue its green tourism development, and enhance the parks and harbourfront among other initiatives.
Although there is no direct financial allocation for the exhibition and convention industry in the new budget, the HKSAR launched its Convention and Exhibition Industry Subsidy Scheme in October 2020, effective until the end of 2021, to aid the business events sector's recovery.
“The HK$1,020 million helps subsidise exhibition and convention organisers and participants, in order to reinvigorate Hong Kong’s reputation as the event capital of Asia,” a spokesperson of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Management Limited (HML) said.
Furthermore, the HKTB will continue to support the events and exhibitions industry with its added budget. This include:
● Enhancing the subsidy schemes and sponsoring trade members’ participation in trade events to speed up business recovery.
● Organising and supporting mega events to maintain Hong Kong’s international exposure.
● Organising large-scale promotions to drive industry recovery when cross-border travel resumes.
In response to last week's budget announcement, Dr. YK Pang, chairman of HKTB, said: “In addition to our continuous efforts to enhance the local atmosphere and support the travel trade, the HKTB’s goal is to encourage visitors to choose Hong Kong as their first destination when cross-border travel resumes”.
Acknowledging how virtual has become the new way to work and meet, another HK$1 billion will go into the Distance Business Programme — first launched in mid-2020 to fund enterprises looking to adopt information technology solutions. It has already provided nearly HK$800 million in funds so far.
"Making good use of digital technology is not only essential to effective business operation, but also crucial for preventing and combating the pandemic and protecting public health and safety," Chan said.
Appreciation from industry
Apart from benefiting organisers who held exhibitions at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in recent months, the venue sees the expanded budget as a way of facilitating cross-border trade. But more importantly, HML expressed appreciation of the government's recognition of "the significant contribution of the exhibition and convention industry to the economy of Hong Kong," a spokesperson told M&C Asia.
Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association (HKECIA) agrees.
“It is a good sign that the government understands the need to support Hong Kong’s tourism industries. Any project which helps to revitalise the tourist offerings and make the city an even more attractive destination will have a positive effect on MICE organisers ability to bring in more overseas participants”, said Stuart Bailey, chairman, HKECIA.
To that end, Bailey highlighted that HKTB is "looking at a major revamp of the HK tourist destination branding, which has remained largely unchanged since the 1990’s and which we hope will help to engage with new audiences and bring more visitors to experience Hong Kong’s dynamic appeal”.
The HKECIA chief also highlighted that, with MICE travellers out-spending other FIT visitors by a magnitude of 4 to 10 times depending on the sector, he hopes "some of the billions that the HKTB is receiving will be funnelled in specific programmes to help attract these high-spending groups to return sooner”.
And a travel bubble arrangement is one such way to do so, although discussions are still in the air. Chan indicated in his 2021/22 budget speech that the "government will discuss and work out arrangements with places that have close economic and trade relations with Hong Kong and where the epidemic situation is relatively stable".
HML is all for a travel bubble arrangement, stating that although many events originally scheduled for 2020 at HKCEC were postponed or cancelled, all that will change with the opening of borders — which can start with destinations closer to home.
“For trade exhibitions with major participation from Mainland and overseas exhibitors and buyers, it all depends on whether they will ease up on the social distancing and quarantine measures. Same applies with travel restrictions imposed by the HKSAR Government and respective countries. HML will continue to work closely with event organisers and exercise flexibility to reschedule affected events”.
HKECIA's Bailey added that the HKTB’s launch of The Tourism Recovery Industry Taskforce has been a valuable asset to advise the government on what measures would help to kick-start the recovery. “However, further work needs to be done to allow vaccinated and covid-negative visitors to come back to Hong Kong to spend their tourist dollars in our hotels, shops and restaurants."