Quality counts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am

Macau, Asia's casino town, isn't everyone's cup of tea, just as Las Vegas is not all things to all people. It is not very different from Disney theme parks. Despite its fame, there are plenty of people who have not rushed there. This is why Hong Kong officials don't have to be so nervous about competition from its neighbour.

That is not to downplay Macau's rapid development and success. After all, Macau was always a gambling town. It's just that now it is on a much larger scale. With China's economic liberalisation, many more people are allowed to travel outside the country, and even gamble, which has enabled Macau to expand its casino facilities with US investments.

As a result, copies of Las Vegas-style gaming establishments have sprung up; enormous in scale, loud in style and unseen in Asia until now. Today, people who like to gamble have a lot of choice in Macau, and they will have even more choice in the future, as more casinos and hotels are built.

As with Las Vegas, part of the business is to attract shows and conventions. For those of us - the vast majority - who do not gamble, there is really nothing to get us into the casinos except curiosity, which is usually satisfied after one visit.

Nevertheless, we may still go to Macau to watch a special show, dine in one of the many restaurants, and to spend a night there. This adds, not subtracts, to the attraction of living in Hong Kong. In just the past fortnight, Macau has hosted a famous international singer, and a convention of mobile-phone service operators.

While government officials lament the competition from Macau, they might start by examining what Hong Kong is doing and should do. Hong Kong also plays host to many entertainment shows and conventions.

Much of the convention and exhibition business in Hong Kong is controlled by the Trade Development Council (TDC), a public-sector body. It operates the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai and organises trade shows.

Private-sector entrepreneurs have been muttering for years that they have trouble getting space. Thankfully, the AsiaWorld-Expo facility near the airport has introduced more capacity and a measure of competition.

If officials want to quickly add convention and exhibition space in Hong Kong, isn't the quickest and cheapest way to enlarge AsiaWorld-Expo, which has already set space aside for expansion? The current expansion of the Convention and Exhibition Centre was never really a good solution because the Wan Chai waterfront is already very congested. When more facilities are squeezed into the area, things will only get worse. In other words, the site is 'full'.

Now, the TDC wants to build another large venue on the waterfront. It is easy to understand why it wants a site nearby; it would be easier to manage. Officials appear sympathetic to the idea - despite the fact that, in town planning terms, there is no capacity left along the waterfront.

As I have noted, there is an alternative that makes sense. Indeed, officials need to revisit why they didn't make AsiaWorld-Expo bigger in the first place, as this may tell them something about the short-sighted approach to their decision-making.

Nevertheless, there is a limit to the amount of convention space and number of hotel rooms Hong Kong can add. However, we can be selective about the kind of business we compete for. We need to remember that not everyone wants Las Vegas-style facilities.

Hong Kong needs to be cool headed about how to retain and attract premium businesses, because we are able to provide top services. Let's not overlook the fact that Hong Kong's economic activities are in fact diverse, unlike those of Macau and Las Vegas. We have a choice about what kind of events and what type of customers we want to attract.

We have a lot going for us. It has taken us decades to be able to provide consistent high quality, and that is the strength we should bank on.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange