Hardware headaches

Hong Kong has done well with association meetings and is now keen to get China’s associations to meet in town, but a venue shortage could hamper growth potential

Medical meetings featured strongly on Hong Kong’s 2017 calendar of association events.
According to Hong Kong Tourism Board’s MICE & cruise general manager, Kenneth Wong, Hong Kong won at least 10 medical events – eight of which were first to Hong Kong or Asia.

Wong said: “The largest is the 33rd Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology Congress 2018 (and together with) Spine World Summit 2018 and 22nd International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, these events brought more than 15,000 medical professionals from all over the world to Hong Kong.”

Besides the stronger performance in medical association meetings, Hong Kong also did well in attracting a variety of high-level gatherings across industries and disciplines including music, sports and telecommunication. Some of the noteworthy wins, according to Wong, are the 13th World Harp Congress, Critical Communications World and FIBA Mid-term Congress 2017.

For the year ahead, Hong Kong Tourism Board’s vision is locked onto China.
Business event arrivals from the mainland rose 6.1 per cent year-on-year in 1H2017, and Wong noted that half of Hong Kong’s business event arrivals for that period were from China.

Wong said: “We wish to attract more mainland association executives here, particularly those from the science and technology sectors, to meet their local counterparts for exchanges. Hopefully these mainland Chinese executives would bring their local meetings to Hong Kong, or maybe organise a big convention for Greater China here.”

With this desire in mind, the business events division of Hong Kong Tourism Board – Meetings & Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK) – is putting in place policies and rolling out campaigns to target Chinese associations.

As well, MEHK is taking a broader view on growing the destination’s number of association meetings. It is strengthen its partnerships with professional conference organisers and intermediaries, such as the American Society of Association Executives, HelmsBriscoe, the International Congress and Convention Association, and the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers, in order to leverage their communication platforms and networks to reach more potential customers.

Wong added: “On the government front, we work closely with various government bureaus to make Hong Kong the destination of choice for conferences in specific industries or areas. For such efforts, one of our closest partners is InvestHK.

“Other than government bureaus, MEHK has conducted proactive outreach programmes for local universities and institutions to assist local medical professionals in hosting a homegrown conference or bringing a global event to the city. Our close partners include the Chinese University Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Academy of Medicine.”

However, Gloria Slethaug, managing director of Connexus Travel (previously Swire Travel), thinks more efforts are needed. “The government is not aggressive enough in terms of sponsorships to (strengthen) bids and in the final stages of negotiations. Perhaps this is due to our constraints in venue and capacity,” she said.

Hong Kong’s limited hardware is also an obstacle brought up by Doris Lam, general manager of Momentous Asia Travel and Events.

“It is not easy to book a space at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, even if the event is two years away,” Lam said, adding that hotels are not an option as few have ballrooms capable of accommodating gatherings of more than 400 delegates.

The high demand for hotel ballrooms also meant that conferences had to vacate premises for wedding banquets in the evening and build up again the next morning, or pay an overnight charge to avoid the trouble, lamented Lam.

Lam’s wishlist is for more convention centres and a policy that gives association meetings booking priority at venues.

International Conference Consultants director Katerina Tam agreed that “more financial support from the government, attractive hotel and venue (prices), and infrastructure development will help bring more global association meetings to the city”.

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