Hong Kong can concede the race for conventions, ordinary visitors like our city just fine
City losing race for exhibition, meetings --SCMP headline, July 5
MICE they call this, which stand for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions, and mice is what these events attract, travellers who go where they are sent and do what they are told.
Hotelkeepers love them. They are easier to handle than individual travellers and they do more than just sleep in hotels. They eat, shop and attend meetings there. They are the money makers for the hotel trade.
But they don’t do much for the Hong Kong economy.
The hotel industry is heavily foreign-owned, even more heavily foreign-managed, the furnishings, supplies and food are almost entirely imported and the employment consists mostly of menial jobs, which are largely taken up by labour migrants anyway.
If the mice go outside the hotels to shop, which they are given little incentive to do, they again buy only imported wares. If they go outside for entertainment, our major exhibition centre offers them two streets of tawdry bars and pick-up joints just over the footbridge. There they can be fleeced by Thai girls of dubious gender. Oh, what joy.
And then, back home they go on foreign-owned airlines, taken to the airport on a railway line we built for them at such a high cost that the Hong Kong taxpayer will eternally subsidise their fares.
Leaving aside the very marginal contribution that these visitors actually make to Hong Kong’s well-being, why do we think that we have any advantage in this sector of the tourist trade anyway?
For starters, to the extent that these mice are drawn by trade fairs, still the largest part of the business, Hong Kong no longer has the products or the competitive venues to show them.
We have long lost our industrial base. It has gone to the mainland and mainland cities have built, and are still building, large numbers of extravagant exhibition palaces. These now have much more show space and can accommodate more visitors than we can hope to match.
Why then do we continue to burn up public money through the Trade Development Council to showcase goods we do not make, in competition with mainland exhibition centres that do not care how much money they lose when they can at least say they support local industries, which we do not? This is rank silliness.
And how can we really compete against the casinos and nightlife shows of the Cotai Strip? It offers what most mice consider fun after a hard day’s work, listening to the boss drivel on about sales objectives. If they truly prefer the Lockhart Road scene, well, Macau has that, too.
And we have not even discussed convention centres with adjoining attractions such as beaches, golf courses, quaint old historical buildings, world renowned museums or nature tours.
We have some of these, but not only are they a bit second rate compared with what other places can offer, there are long traffic jams to endure getting there, and hotels frown on promotions that draw mice out of hotels. Bear in mind that our tourist board is a kept mouse of our hoteliers.
Then there is the fact that 75 per cent of our visitors come from mainland China, the majority of them on the individual visitor scheme. Mice they may be, but not of the MICE sort. Our tourism business is predominantly based on conventional tourists.
As the chart shows, for most of this decade we have enjoyed higher visitor arrival growth than the rest of Asia.
We then saw a slump in mainland Chinese arrivals, that took our economy down, but arrivals are now bouncing back.
So what, if we lose an unwinnable race for exhibitions and meetings. Ordinary visitors still like us just fine.