Hong Kong's meetings and events sector is on the road to recovery with the number of overnight Mice visitors surging 29.7 per cent to 657,951 for the first half of the year.
Visitors from South and Southeast Asia showed the highest growth (55 per cent), followed by the Americas (37.7 per cent), the mainland (27.8 per cent) and north Asia (25.8 per cent).
Gilly Wong, Mice and cruise general manager at Meeting and Exhibition Hong Kong (MEHK), attributes this to a better economic climate, especially across Asia. 'The balanced portfolio of tourist attractions in Asia, and particularly in Hong Kong, also counts,' she says.
To spur this growth, MEHK is working on a product guide for meeting and incentive organisers to give travel agents an attractive portfolio to promote. Wong says it will also ride on Festive Hong Kong 2010, and roll out promotions with party and team-building elements.
Mice opportunities offered by Lantau Island are among the attractions that can be packaged into two- or three-day itineraries. 'Hong Kong Disneyland, AsiaWorld-Expo next to the airport, the breathtaking Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride and the Big Buddha at the end of the ride are all world-class drawcards. Plus, there are now 3,000 hotel rooms on Lantau, such as Novotel Citygate, Regal Airport and SkyCity Marriott. We'll line up with these industry partners in the next few months.'
To offer frontline staff comprehensive information about the latest developments for the city's meetings and incentives industry, MEHK has launched an interactive online manual - 'Meetings and Incentives Specialist Online Training Programme' - which features corporate meeting ideas in Hong Kong. Participants who complete the six-module course will receive a certificate, a special gift and even a chance to visit Hong Kong.
Wong doesn't see Singapore's aggressive Mice strategy, and the two new integrated resorts, posing a threat to Hong Kong's market share. 'Instead it means more diversity for the region and lifts the overall attraction of Asia by providing more choice,' she says. 'Hong Kong's competitiveness is good and hotel choice from 2012-2015 will cover everything from budget hotels to the luxury sector. Coupled with our tourism appeal, we can continue exploring new and creative activities such as the Wine and Dine Festival.'
Destination management companies, such as MV Destination, seem equally confident. 'There are many criteria to choose destinations. I think Hong Kong and Singapore are attracting slightly different sets of clients,' says MV's general manager Clemson Lo. 'While Singapore enjoys a good number of corporates, Hong Kong will draw companies with China links.'
Hotel rates remain a prime consideration. 'The good part is that there are now many more second-tier choices,' Lo says. 'Clients who used to pick five-star hotels are trading down to four-star. And now we have another choice - Shenzhen. A lot of times we actually move the whole programme over the border because of Hong Kong's high room rates.'
He believes Hong Kong's Mice promotional focus should be on value rather than price. 'Hong Kong is still behind on value and on the edge of falling professionalism,' Lo says. 'The government should also allow access to more heritage sites. Some areas where the government or our tourist board could improve the situation is by enabling freer access to special venues, not necessary newly-developed venues such as the Hong Kong Museum of Art.'
With statistics strongly suggesting a rebound, hotels, such as the JW Marriott, tell a similar story. The hotel has reported a rebound for the past seven months, while swathes of function space have already been booked for this month and next month.
The Peninsula Hong Kong's outlook is more tempered with mainland business growth providing a tonic. Associate director of sales Jeff Kwok says: 'The economy still hasn't fully recovered, so the number of meetings and incentives did not reach our expected level in the first seven months, but we see a growing trend of last-minute meeting groups from mainland corporations. Our rates have come back steadily in the first half of the year, but they have not reached the same level as before the economic crisis.'
Kwok says Singapore's introduction of casinos and mega hotels have had some impact on Hong Kong's status as a Mice destination, but cautions that 'we are facing much stronger challenges from Macau, plus China destinations like Shanghai with its Expo, or even Sanya'.