Hoteliers, restaurant and bar owners ride the Hong Kong Sevens wave

Hotels near Hong Kong Stadium charge double for rooms and bar takings in Lan Kwai Fong are up 25pc as cash-rich rugby fanatics hit town

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 April, 2017, 10:37pm

Hong Kong hoteliers and restaurant and bar owners are expecting a significant boost from the weekend Rugby Sevens extravaganza amid the current tourism downturn.

The three-day tournament, taking place from Friday to Sunday at the Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay, could have brought more than 10,000 high-spending overseas travellers to the city.

They tend to spend four times more than average visitors during their Hong Kong trip. Last year, overseas visitors attending the sevens spent an average HK$28,226 and stayed 7.2 days in the city, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Rugby Union.

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One of the biggest beneficiaries is the Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district, where fans hang out after the day’s play.

Allan Zeman, known as the“father” of the nightclub area, said business for establishments in his group had grown 20 per cent to 25 per cent year-on-year even before the tournament officially kicked off on Friday.

“Lan Kwai Fong is in the DNA of Rugby Sevens. People just come here and party,” he said.

On Thursday, police had to shut down some streets to traffic because too many people were having fun at midnight on a normal weekday, he said.

“[Rugby Sevens] is good for business ...We sold a lot of beer,” he said.

For the first time, the organiser launched a Rugby Sevens-themed mobile application in partnership with 126 restaurants and bars hoping to catch the affluent travellers with exclusive promotions.

The sevens tournament started in the city in 1976 as a single-day event attended by just 3,000 people. Organisers are now expecting a total of 120,000 enthusiasts during the three-day event, of which about 40 per cent are from overseas. Tickets have been sold out every year since the late 1990s except for 2003, when Hong Kong was hit by severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

The rich history of the championship has attracted rugby fans like Martyn Johnston. The bank manager from New Zealand has come every year since 2012.

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Arriving on Friday, the diehard rugby fan joined 12 friends in the finance industry flying in from all over the world. The group of sevens regulars booked rooms in the Crowne Plaza, a five-star hotel in the heart of Causeway Bay, one year in advance.

“The excitement every year is ridiculous. We started talking about the Hong Kong Sevens three months out [in a WhatsApp group],” he said.

“The Hong Kong Sevens is known as the greatest sevens event in the world,” he added.

The tournament also provides a good opportunity for him to catch up with overseas friends.

“Hong Kong is in the middle of the world. If it’s in New Zealand, it’s a long way back to London,” he said.

Varun Gujral, an executive chef at a high-end restaurant in Sydney, said he planed to spend about HK$3,000 per day during his stay in Hong Kong on top of the charge for his five-star accommodation. He said apart from attending the tournament, he would like to explore the city’s fine dining options and do some shopping.

The visit of these affluent travellers is definitely good news for the city’s hoteliers, who are suffering from a decline in mainland visitors – at least for those near the competition venue.

Hong Kong Hotel Owners Association executive director Michael Li Hon-shing said the overseas rugby fans had helped drive up overall room rates in the city, with prices doubling for some hotels near the stadium.

More than half of the rugby travellers to Hong Kong were looking for four and five-star hotels during their stay in the city, with 68 per cent saying the main purpose of their visit was to attend the sevens, according to the survey.

But Li said the economic effects brought by the rugby tournament were largely limited to Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, as hotels in other parts of the city were still reporting slow business in April.

A spokeswoman for the Tourism Board said the event was“crucial for reinforcing Hong Kong’s reputation as the events capital of Asia and an important means of boosting local business”.