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A lack of space and a shortage of potential future leaders will hinder the city's exhibition industry, the new head of the Convention and Exhibition Centre says.
Monica Lee-Muller, who has taken over from Cliff Wallace as the centre's managing director after working there for 18 years, said one challenge for the organisation was a high staff turnover, with many young employees leaving after two or three years, creating a gap between management and mid-level staff. 'Some quit their jobs telling us they are going on a trip, or that they can't stand the pressure. Others said they needed a rest after two years of work,' Lee-M?ller said, adding that turnover was particularly high among event managers.
There is work for about 930 people at the centre, though some of the positions are vacant. Lee-Muller hopes to expand the staff to 1,000 in the next few years.
'Young people now need recognition. It's not always about the salary,' she said. 'We don't have a problem in recruitment, but it's difficult to retain them.'
She hopes future recruits will carry on the traditions of the centre. Despite the concerns about turnover, 41 per cent of the employees have worked at the venue for more than a decade.
Lee-Muller also believes the centre, in Wan Chai, needs to be expanded as it is already at saturation point in mid-season, putting international exhibitors off.
The Trade Development Council, which manages the centre, has been seeking expansion for years.
The venue's exhibition space was doubled to 64,000 square metres in 1997, and increased by a further 20,000 square metres in 2009.
She urged the government to make plans for expansion soon, as competition for international exhibitions was becoming more intense.
Private-sector exhibition organisers have criticised the expansion plans, arguing that if any exhibition centre is to be expanded it should be AsiaWorld-Expo, near the airport.
But Lee-M?ller said the lack of space could cost the centre in the event of an economic upturn.
'Now we are managing to keep up with demand, although the economy appears to be gloomy,' she said. 'But if the economy takes off again, I can't do anything.'
Lee-Muller stood by the TDC's decision to close last month's Book Fair early when Typhoon Vicente struck.
'I think we have done really well. I would give ourselves a score of 99 [out of 100]. The only one point we missed is that we failed to convince all exhibitors that it was the right thing to do,' she said.
Lee-Muller said the moment that stayed with her from her years at the centre was the handover ceremony in 1997. The new wing was not finished when the ceremony was held, and few staff had entered the new building. She said architects were used as ushers 'because they were the only ones who knew the way'.
Staff were especially nervous when Prince Charles 'disappeared' 15 minutes before he was due on stage. 'I was carrying two walkie-talkies at that time. A staffer said on one of them: 'The prince isn't there.'
'In the end, the prince was found to have been wandering around looking at the architecture of the building.'