Hotels and event organisers are cautiously optimistic that Mice business will expand based on the first green shoots of growth being seen across the Asia-Pacific. About 500,000 Mice visitors arrived in Hong Kong in the first two quarters of this year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board. This is a growth of about 2 per cent compared with the first six months of last year. Tourism Board general manager of Mice and cruise Gilly Wong attributed the increase to a balanced Mice portfolio in Hong Kong. 'The drop in meetings and incentives was compensated by moderate growth from the convention and exhibition segments, especially from the mainland in attending international conventions and exhibitions staged in Hong Kong. 'The mainland continued to be the largest source market among many regions. Despite the impact of the economic downturn and the spread of swine flu, Hong Kong has still successfully staged a number of conventions and exhibitions in the first six months of this year. 'The exhibition industry is traditionally more resilient even in times of adversity, and conventions generally stick to the planned schedule even if attendance levels drops. According to the Tourism Board, more than 70 major conventions and exhibitions will be held in Hong Kong in the second half of this year.' The encouraging picture has been, to some extent, brought about by governments that have moved with a determination to shore up their economies with subsidies and incentives to help specific industries. The second phase of the board-initiated Business Right Here campaign has been launched and runs until December 15. The campaign will see 34 trade exhibitions. Another plus for overseas visitors attending trade shows in Hong Kong is the Meetings & Exhibitions Hong Kong - a Mice division of the Tourism Board. It has been working with the Immigration Department and the airport authority to set up a dedicated immigration counter for overseas and mainland visitors to large-scale trade exhibitions that have an expected overseas attendance of more than 10,000. But it is on the frontline - in the hotels and exhibition centres - that the industry's struggle against the recession will be conclusively won. Catherine Scown, director of marketing at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, is focusing on the future after the challenges of recent months. 'The hotel's Mice business has certainly been affected this year. We have still had incentive groups staying in the hotel, although the number of participants has been lower than previous years. It has been encouraging though to see companies opting to continue to organise incentive trips, recognising the value of such experiences to enhance productivity and recognise their top performers. 'There was a significant drop in the number of IPO events in the first half of the year, although it has been encouraging to see activity in this segment in the past month and we expect to see more activity in the third and fourth quarters.' Many Hong Kong hotels have been forced to introduce measures to counteract lost trade in Mice and business travel. The Four Seasons is no exception. 'Cutting costs does not equate to cutting corners and our guests can rely on the fact that Four Seasons continues to provide the same level of service, quality and amenities as always,' Scown said. 'Any changes we make are behind the scenes, making our operations more efficient and effective.' It has certainly been a mixed picture across Hong Kong, but some newer venues with a focus on well-performing markets have done surprisingly well. Katie Malone, director of communications at Mong Kok's Langham Place, said: 'Interestingly, Mice room nights are about 1 per cent stronger, [so far this year]. This is the result of a diversified marketing approach to reach new Mice groups - particularly short-haul - and focusing on some key industries which continue to deliver; for example, the pharmaceutical industry.' 'The introduction of the Hong Kong Tourism Board's Meetings & Exhibitions in Hong Kong programme has also ensured the city remains in the spotlight for those Mice groups which are still very active. Where we have mainly been affected is that the average Mice rate has weakened.' As for offsetting lost trade, Langham Place is holding steady. Malone said: 'Cost-cutting doesn't tend to pay off long-term. There are no cost-cutting initiatives we have put into place, however we are offering less-inclusive Mice options at more affordable rates and with less risk for the organiser. One example is where Mice groups may have previously been keen on accommodation, breakfast and dinner. They may now just take up accommodation and breakfast. The level of offering remains unchanged, however the basic accommodation and breakfast offering may be more attractive given its affordability. Our entry level room, Vital Place, is also more attractive to many Mice operators now who may previously have gone for a higher level room type. Again it's not that we're cost-cutting, just showing greater agility with what's available.' The Langham Place team has been mindful of the extent that Mice visitors have been feeling the pinch. Malone said: 'We've also introduced a 'no strings attached' campaign in response to Mice organisers' strained budgets. 'This campaign is designed to take any risk away for Mice planners. For new bookings we waive all cancellation penalties - previous contracts carried financial cancellation clauses. We also no longer charge attrition rates for new contracts - many meeting contracts carry a penalty if the minimum hotel room number is not met. We've removed food and beverage minimums and waived all internet charges for Mice groups.' Both hotels forecast better times ahead and are optimistic about the Mice industry's prospect of recovery in coming months. Scown said: 'We are starting to see more activity and more business coming in, much of which is booked very short-term. We are also receiving requests from clients for us to hold space for them in the coming months.' Malone said: 'We saw some positive signs for Mice groups in July and August and this trend looks set to continue. Our competitors seem to be experiencing similar trends. Moving forward from the recession we've learned to be a lot more flexible and creative in what we're offering. So I guess every cloud has its silver lining.'