As trade fairs flounder, why is Hong Kong easing out of Covid-19 so slowly?
- Recent rugby and bankers’ events enjoyed exemptions and were a success but international trade fairs, and the wider events and tourism industry, continue to suffer
- How does Hong Kong plan to keep its strict measures and still fulfil its economic role in China’s national plan?
As an Asian product sourcing event with a long history of 30 years, Mega Show returned on November 15 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre with only 700 booths this year, a mere eighth of its size before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before Covid-19 hit, in 2018, more than 14 million people flew into Hong Kong, an average of nearly 1.2 million per month. In 2019, despite the social unrest, nearly 800,000 overseas tourists still visited Hong Kong in December.
Quite simply, Hong Kong has not relaxed its Covid-19 measures enough to bring tourists back. This is directly harming the city’s economy – stifling tourism-related enterprises, forcing travel agencies and restaurants to go out of business, and shrinking international trade fairs. The economy will continue to suffer unless the Hong Kong government takes serious action.
The battle against Covid-19 has lasted for more than 1,000 days. While daily caseloads still number in the high thousands, the number of severe cases and fatality rate remain extremely low.
The coronavirus has not been cleared, but the local economy has been emptied. The Hong Kong government has insisted that it will continue with epidemic prevention but the sad reality is that it is chasing its own tail.
Having been engaged in the international trade exhibition business in Hong Kong for more than 30 years, we see that the current strict anti-epidemic policy being kept on by Hong Kong government is deterring most overseas exhibitors and buyers. Requiring inbound travellers to undergo multiple rounds of compulsory testing, for example, is complicated and lacks transparency.
As business travellers generally have a tight schedule, it is really difficult for them to accept the three-day amber code restriction upon arrival. This is a barrier to efforts to attract them to Hong Kong. Therefore, the number of passengers arriving continues to be sluggish, and airlines cannot arrange too many flights, which directly leads to high air ticket prices.
Before the pandemic, Mega Show was the largest Asian product sourcing event held in Hong Kong every autumn, with more than 5,000 booths in its heyday, attracting buyers from around the world.
The glorious days when such international trade fairs brought Hong Kong hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign exchange earnings have become history. During the epidemic, such trade fairs were cancelled, forcing many senior industry professionals to switch careers, and the industry has, sadly, lost talents.
In the past, many buyers would go on to make stops in the mainland and around the region after attending Hong Kong’s exhibitions. But given Hong Kong’s epidemic-prevention measures, and with quarantine-free travel between the mainland and Hong Kong yet to resume, there is now even less desire to visit Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government and the central government must solve this problem as soon as possible.
Duncan Cheung is the founder of Mega Show, the renowned sourcing show for Made-in-Asia products in Hong Kong every October