Why Hong Kong venues lag mainland China in online ticket sales and e-payments

Top officials say residents’ preference for buying tickets in person at a box office, and a longer history of credit card sales, partly responsible for the city’s rather more traditional approach

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 8:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 11:26am

Digital innovation at Hong Kong’s largest ticketing service is lagging the mainland and will continue to for at least five more years, top government officials in charge of the service have said.

But it still does well on data protection and the human elements of a transaction, which local audiences still value, they said.

Local ticketing services were made to look a little backwards when the director of the Beijing Palace Museum Shan Jixiang told a Hong Kong audience recently that all 32 ticket counters at the museum were closed as of 1 October this year in favour of electronic tickets for all 80,000 daily visitors.

But one top ticketing official said changes north of the border served as motivation for local distributors to keep up.

“We have taken note of their strides and are enhancing Urbtix, our ticketing system since 1984, while examining payment methods for the future,” Vivian Yeung Wing-kam, chief manager of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) in charge of ticketing, said.

“We saw a major revamp in 2014 at Cityline, our service partner since 2007, such as increasing the online capacity tenfold and introducing a new mobile app, but the consumption pattern remains steady.”

According to official figures, in-person box office purchases made up almost half of ticket sales for LCSD-organised events in the past four years, with online bookings making up about 20 per cent.

“Hong Kong is a small place and we have 35 outlets around town where people get customer service such as advice on a good seat without the HK$8 surcharge for online booking,” Yeung said.

“There are human factors behind the purchase and it takes time for people to change their habit. Logistically, events like exhibitions and Palace Museum visits that do not require marked seats are easier to apply e-ticketing to than those that do.”

But online booking and electronic payment, she said, “are definitely emerging trends worthy of pursuit”, citing half a million downloads of the My Urbtix app since 2014 as an indicator of potential.

Yeung placed hope in a HK$4.1 million LCSD study into different ticketing options, currently under way and running to the end of next year, examining international practices, including those in mainland China, against the city’s needs.

But she added that they would have to take data safety into account.

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“We in Hong Kong take special caution over issues concerning personal data and security for the interest of the audience as much as event presenters. We will take into account all these factors for a balanced decision,” she said.

She said she did not foresee any major changes in payment methods before the current contract with Cityline expires in 2021, the year the new East Kowloon Cultural Centre is scheduled to open in Ngau Tau Kok, without a box office counter in the design layout.

Esmond Chan Cheong-hung, an LCSD senior manager in ticketing, lauded the benefits that online booking had brought at the Hung Hom Coliseum, a major venue for pop concerts.

“The online booking changed completely the previous chaos when fans queued up overnight for tickets in the wheelchair section released on the day of the show,” the civil servant, with nearly three decades’ experience, said.

As well as e-ticketing, taking payments via digital means on mobile phones is another major mainland trend which has not yet caught on in the city.

Chan said Hong Kong could not make the leap to e-payments as quickly as the mainland had because of the city’s long history of credit card payments, which the mainland never had, instead moving quickly from cash to e-payments on debit cards.

“We can’t apply the e-payment method like the mainland as we have our own payment tradition and operational procedure that is open and fair to all parties concerned. There is no shortcut,” he said.