Hundreds of early birds queued up at dawn in Wan Chai for the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, the largest in Asia. When the event opened at 10am Wednesday at the convention centre, it welcomed about 1,000 visitors standing in line. Organised by the Trade Development Council, the seven-day fair features a record number of exhibitors – about 670 – hailing from 37 countries. This is the 28th year for the annual event. Paul Li, 40, arrived at 7.10am, though some fellow bookworms showed up at 5am. “I am ready to spend HK$3,000 to HK$4,000,” Li said. Last year he budgeted under HK$2,000. Early birds typically search for limited edition books, special bargains and souvenirs. A fair spokesman said visitors last year spent HK$902 on average. This year’s travel-themed fair features a zone called “Around the World Through Words”, presenting works by nine local writers: poets Xi Xi and the late Leung Ping-kwan; cruise expert Albert Wong; historians Sonia Ng and Jason Wordie; explorer Rebecca Lee; veteran journalist Zhou Yijun; novelist Kam Ling; and photographer Celia Cheng. Tourist Sunny Liu, 36, visiting with her four-year-old son, had her eye on works by mainland writers and directors as well as English books for children. These bargains are not easily found anywhere else in Hong Kong Simon Law, fair attendee But not everyone brought ambitious shopping lists. Leon Tsang, who has just finished his Diploma of Secondary Education exams, said five books about career management and investment totalled about HK$900. Last year he spent about HK$2,000 on reference books. “I am better off with what I bought today even though I spent less than last year,” he said. Simon Law, attending with his wife, chose 10 children’s books for their three-year-old son. The books only cost HK$100 in total. “These bargains are not easily found anywhere else in Hong Kong,” he said. Some exhibitors resorted to various gimmicks to attract potential customers. Clemence Leung, director of Taiwan-based Wan Li Book Company, said his firm had brought a robot to serve as a receptionist to spur interactions with fair visitors. “Pepper [the robot] can answer your questions in Cantonese or Putonghua about books published by our company,” Leung explained. “The electronic system is definitely much more accurate and has a larger volume than human brains.” Chinese war reporter who worked in Middle East sees lessons for Hong Kong in its push for democracy Some visitors gathered around to talk to the robot and get its book-buying tips on topics such as travel, health care and cooking. William So, general manager of Ming Pao Publications, noted his company was offering coupons to visitors in exchange for their “likes” on Facebook. “Every year, the sales amount has slightly increased, but business is not very good as a whole,” he said. “We use coupons to entice customers.” So added he saw the number of political books that were sold fall further this year as the dust of political storms such as the Occupy protests three years ago continued to settle. Cathy Lo, senior manager of retail management at Joint Publishing, described sales on Wednesday morning as worse than last year’s opening day owing to the stormy weather. But she expected numbers to pick up by the afternoon. Five highlights you should not miss at the Hong Kong Book Fair “Last year, people poured into booths with little space in the aisles,” she said. Lo anticipated an overall increase in sales this year. Book fair tickets for adults are priced at HK$25, while those entering before noon need only pay HK$10. Visitors with regular tickets dated July 19 or 20 may enjoy free re-entry admission on Friday, Saturday or Sunday after 5pm.