Trawling the inflight entertainment system on a Cathay Pacific flight, an eye-catching advertisement kept popping up. It showed skyscrapers from around the world, with subtitles such as 'No capital gains tax, No inheritance tax, No witholding tax, No value added tax.'
I assumed this was C.Y.Leung's new government launching a bold new campaign to lure investors to Hong Kong or Invest HK targeting inbound businessmen to set up shop here. But no, it was Singapore developer Far East Organisation extolling the virtues of their home town, whilst plugging their 250-metre tall luxury residential complex 'Altez'. That’s right; the eyeballs of CX passengers are being bombarded with the delights of Singapore, Hong Kong’s great rival for business and investment dollars.
So I asked CX chief executive John Slosar why the home team was batting for the opposition? Did he think Singapore Airlines would plug a Hong Kong company?
Give him his due; Slosar is not the kind of CEO who flicks sticky questions to his spin doctors. He took it on the chin. I should know from my travels, he said, that property developers are frequent placers of ads in airline publications and, in this case, on the inflight entertainment system.
“This is nothing new,” he said. Having reviewed the ad, “and importantly within the context of them trying to sell flats in their project - the point of the ad - not just to Singaporeans but I guess to anyone who might be interested in overseas property, letting potential buyers know that there is no tax on the purchase or sale of the property is a legitimate thing for them to do,” he added. “Cathay sees those claims in the ad in the context of selling flats, not in terms of 'Everyone Should Come to Singapore.' This is an important difference and we think the ad is fairly viewed in that way.”
He said he didn’t personally remember the ad – it only started showing on September 1 - and he stressed he does not review every ad on the inflight system and in Discovery magazine.
“So, no, the Lion City has not infiltrated Cathay Pacific! We know where our hearts are - right here! - and we very often do joint promos with HKTDC and Invest HK highlighting the fact that we think Everyone Should Come to Hong Kong.”
So, he added, he really does not think CX is promoting Singapore. And turning down an ad selling flats in Singapore (or China?) does not seem to him the right move. “Is there a line there? Yes, there is. But we do not believe that we have yet crossed it, or been asked to cross it.”
He suspects SQ would not refuse an ad from a Hong Kong property developer selling attractive flats in Hong Kong. I wonder...
Tale of two cities – More Shoebox Sagas
Talking of Singapore, the Lion city’s government has announced a crackdown on small "shoebox" apartments in the city-state's suburban areas, to try to damp local property market speculation and push developers towards building bigger, family-friendly homes.
Announced by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, this comes after concerns over "heated activity" in the so-called shoebox segment: flats of 500 square feet or less, popular with buy- to-let investors. No such constraints hamper the exuberance of Hong Kong landlords. Lots of people here consider 500 sq ft spacious, in a city where public housing allocation averages 70 sq ft per person.
Meanwhile, my search for the perfect des res shoebox  continues. Having scoured outer Shau Kei Wan and the nether regions of Wan Chai without success, the hunt moves west, to up and coming Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun. Both are enjoying rapid gentrification, due to the impending new MTR line and Centre Street escalator.
Apart from needing to be a mountain goat to negotiate the slopes up there, the flats are expensive. Forget HK$2-3m, we’re talking Hk$4.3m asking price for 400sqft, with the net area probably much less. Apart from the price tag, this one seemed promising, being top floor with a nice 300 sq ft of roof. The owner said I must give 15 minutes warning before arriving.
The ground floor neighbour explained why. “It’s so they can put their vicious dogs on the roof,” he explained, pulling down a sock to reveal a teeth-mark riddled ankle. What kind of dogs? “Miniature poodles. They’re a tag team, one attacks from the front, the other from behind. You don’t stand a chance.” That’s it; I’m going back to Wan Chai.