By Gerardine Donough-Tan

The Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association (HKECIA) wants greater clarity from the government on travel restriction policies and financial assistance to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic, as earlier measures have proven insufficient.

In a survey conducted in late July, members said that concrete government policy and financial support are crucial to the industry’s revival. With Hong Kong suffering a setback due to the third wave of COVID-19, HKECIA Chairman Stuart Bailey summed up the situation and way forward.

What’s the impact of the COVID-19 fallout on Hong Kong’s MICE industry?

In the HKECIA survey, 18 organiser respondents said 52 exhibitions and conferences had been cancelled or postponed. They were expected to draw more than 54,000 exhibitors and over 3.4 million of visitors. About 36% of organisers projected a revenue loss of over HK$100 million in 2020.

Mr Bailey said: “Only four small-scale consumer exhibitions took place from February to early September. All other scheduled exhibitions and conventions have not been held. That means zero cash generated by organisers, venues and suppliers to the industry. However, the Subsidy Scheme 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.”

What are the biggest challenges faced by HKECIA members?

The three main issues cited were loss incurred by postponement or cancellation of events; lower market demand; and uncertainty due to government policies such as social distancing, immigration control, compulsory quarantine and other stiff measures.

Why is the events industry so important?

“Exhibitions and conferences play a critical role in the Hong Kong economy, contributing significant economic benefits through spin-offs for related industries such as hotels, restaurants, transport, retail and others. They create numerous jobs and business opportunities for small and medium enterprises, and enhance Hong Kong’s international image and reputation,” said Mr Bailey.

Exhibitions need to come back strongly to support the recovery of trade and business in Hong Kong, he added. HKECIA is therefore requesting the government for immediate and additional financial assistance for event organisers and event-related service providers.

“We also seek clarity from the government on travel restrictions, and would like greater transparency around reviews of the compulsory quarantine arrangements for countries/regions that have a good record against the pandemic,” Mr Bailey added.

Outline two key items on HKCEIA’s wish-list.

  • Exercise greater flexibility in compulsory quarantine regulations. For instance, if travellers with valid health documents test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours before flying to Hong Kong, allow entry and stay for maximum seven days without compulsory quarantine.
  • The subsidy scheme doesn’t apply to convention and exhibition-related service providers who don’t get any income until events resume. Could the government provide a one-off special business operation support fund to such non-organisers?

However, with Hong Kong recently winning four international MICE events between 2021 and 2023, including two repeat events, is a pick-up imminent? Mr Stuart echoed the sentiments of Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) Chairman Y K Pang who said: “It demonstrates international event organisers’ confidence in Hong Kong as a strategic, safe and hygienic destination for high-profile business events.”