Disclosure of a 35% fall last month in passengers flying into Hong Kong, and closures of schools and transport systems underlined the fears of trade show organisers as the eight-month civil unrest seemed to intensify this week. It is just two months since the US-owned Diversified Communications cancelled its annual Seafood Asia Expo because of the “ongoing social unrest”.
That decision coincided with lobbying by some of the leading diamond trading centres which had asked the world’s largest organiser Informa to postpone its Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair in September: “In the light of recent events, we urge Informa Markets to consider the following, rather than potentially risking an empty show in terms of both visitors and exhibitors: postpone the show to a later date – as yet to be determined – once Hong Kong is in a more stable climate. Additionally, we request financial compensation in the form of a discount or refund for all participating companies.”
In their letter, the diamond traders had claimed that some 30-40% of exhibitors were threatening to pull out of the show. But the ultimate success of the event, which typically attracts 50,000+ visitors, is not known and nor is the level of any compensation or price reduction that the organisers may have discussed with exhibitors.
Last month, Informa’s Insec World IT security event was relocated to Chengdu on the Chinese mainland after originally being scheduled for Hong Kong. The company’s Cosmoprof Asia is taking place in Hong Kong this week amid a nervousness, matched at Reed whose Mipim property fair opens next week. Several shows have quietly shortened opening times especially on the final days of events.
The local Premium Beauty News reported: …the organizers said the impact of public incidents on recent Hong Kong trade shows, including September’s Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, has been minimal so far: “Commercial activities in this dynamic and business-oriented city go on as usual. It is also true that, the public incidents usually take place over the weekend, while Cosmoprof Asia is taking place during weekdays which means there is a lesser concern on safety,” highlights David Bondi, Senior Vice President Asia at Informa Markets.
Organisers of exhibitions in Hong Kong are known to be nervous about the possible impact of decisions to cut or cancel events. Even the apparent possibility of ‘dragging and dropping’ events across the Chinese border to what is now the world’s largest exhibition venue, the newly-opened Shenzhen (less than an hour from Hong Kong airport) is considered sensitive.
In a global exhibitions market, where organisers sometimes see venue owner-organisers as a threat to independently-organised shows, there may be a risk of any cancelled events effectively being forfeited to the venue. An estimated 42% of Hong Kong exhibitions are already organised (as well as hosted) by one or other of the province’s two principal venues.
China itself accounts for 17% of global exhibitions space and 70% of the AsiaPacific, which is the only region to have significantly grown both venue capacity and global market share over the past decade. While Hong Kong’s 150k sq m exhibition space means it’s not a leader among exhibition hosting countries (accounting for less than 0.5% of global capacity according to WWX*), the province has benefitted from being one of the easiest places for foreigners to do business in (by contrast with China itself). That hard-won reputation may be in the balance.