Click here for a photo tour of Hong Kong landmarks and activities
The Year of the Rat (2008) may have given way to the Year of the Ox, but in Hong Kong, MICE of the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions type are always welcome.
Last November, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB; www.hktb.com) launched Meetings & Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK; www.mehongkong.com), a branch of the HKTB that is specifically geared toward bringing MICE business to Hong Kong and keeping it there, with special discounts, promotions and assistance from travel partners and the HKTB.
Hong Kong is making a push for MICE travel in 2009.
Working on the theme of "Converging Possibilities," the new office is on a mission to work with industry professionals — from meeting planners to agents — to bring travelers to Hong Kong.
And, even given the struggling global economy (Hong Kong officially announced it had entered a recession last November), it makes plenty of sense to combine meetings business with Hong Kong. The city is nothing if not business-friendly. In 2007, overseas visitor attendance for conventions and exhibitions totaled 878,825 for 304 different conventions and exhibitions; North and South Americans made up 10.6 percent of the grand total. Overseas visitor attendance for corporate meetings and incentives in 2007 was 859,743; 14 percent of those visitors came from the Americas.
For all these reasons and more, the Hong Kong government has invested some $19.3 million to set MEHK up for the next five years, an investment that both the HKTB and the government believe will pay off.
"This is a time when belts are being tightened, but we believe this a time to ramp up our efforts to maintain our market share [of the MICE business]," James Tien Pei-Chun, HKTB chairman said at the global launch ceremony of MEHK.
Hong Kong has always been an important meeting place for trade and commerce, resulting in a vivid mixture of different cultures, traditions and a fascinating, pulsating city unlike any other.
On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I got to experience that firsthand, seeing Hong Kong through the eyes of a MICE attendee with 100 or so other journalists.
Getting there was a snap. The 12-hour Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong from Los Angeles was a breeze, and I was whisked through immigration, thanks to special VIP clearance for MICE attendees. Just 40 minutes later and I was already at my hotel.
Our first stop involved a visit to Asia World-Expo (www.asiaworld-expo.com), Hong Kong’s newest exhibition and convention venue. The expo, which opened in 2005, felt more like a large-scale airport than a convention center, with more than 754,000 square feet of space and its very own subway station (It’s a 28-minute ride from Central Hong Kong to the expo, which is located near the airport). The area near Asia World-Expo is currently undergoing more development; earlier this year, the 658-room Hong Kong SkyCity Marriott Hotel opened next door.
Shortly thereafter, we traveled to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC; www.hkcec.com), a landmark of Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Harbour skyline. There, the Cosmoprof Asia 2008 trade show, was in full swing, with what seemed like thousands of exhibitors and attendees bustling about, investigating the latest in lip gloss and skincare products. By far the biggest draws for the center were its beautiful views of Victoria Harbour, its proximity to the financial district and its unique layout and design, not to mention its fine-dining venues. And, though the HKCEC now boasts some 754,000 square feet of rentable space, it has plans to expand within the next few years to accommodate even more events.
When we weren’t touring venues, we were immersed in group activities perfectly suited for meetings and incentives.
One of my favorite activities involved a nighttime cruise aboard the Aqualuna (www.aqualuna.com.hk), a classic junk boat owned and operated by the Aqua Restaurant Group. For a small group of up to 80, the cruise is a perfect way to unwind at the end of the day, giving visitors a unique vista of the city, along with strong cocktails and savory foods. (The ship is also available for individual clients for a cost of $19 for an afternoon sailing and $23 at night.) The 1,500-squarefoot boat has two different levels; I strongly suggest clients try to nab a spot on the top deck. And if your clients board a 7:30 or 7:45 p.m. cruise, they’ll be treated to the spectacular Symphony of Lights fireworks display.
Another group activity involved an up-close-and-personal encounter with sea lions and seals at Ocean Park Hong Kong (www.oceanpark.com.hk). It’s a special treat for any client fascinated by all creatures great and small, including jellyfish and giant pandas. The wildlife-oriented theme park has undergone a massive amount of expansion in recent years and has no plans of slowing down: the park hopes to build three new hotels on its property, opening in 2011 or 2012.
And, finally, if your clients don’t mind an early morning wakeup call, I suggest you consider setting up a tai chi training session with master William Ng. The incredibly spry Ng showed each of us how to "shadow box" at the top of The Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. I left the class feeling all the more relaxed and ready to conquer my packed itinerary. And isn’t that the way we should always feel, even when we’re traveling for business?