HK's convention and exhibition industry asks financial help as international events dwindle

Hong Kong's convention and exhibition industry has urged the government to offer financial assistance, and a roadmap of relaxing compulsory quarantine measures as the industry continues to face tremendous pressure since the onset of COVID-19.  

The Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association conducted a survey to study the impact of COVID-19 on the industry. According to the survey, 136 exhibitions and conferences have been cancelled or postponed since February 2020. These events were expected to draw over 99,000 exhibiting companies and over 4.8 million of visitors. Moreover, 93% of respondents alsoe claimed that the impact of COVID-19 on their business was severe or extremely severe.

All respondents, including event organisers and non-organisers such as contractors, freight forwarders, travel agents, AV equipment suppliers, and design houses, projected a loss of revenue in 2021, with 37% of event organisers and 29% of non-event organisers projecting a loss of over HK$50 million in 2021.

Hong Kong boasts one of the most stringent quarantine requirements, as the city tightened entry restrictions for arrivals from 16 countries battling a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Currently, its mandatory quarantine period is 21 days. Should such tight restrictions not be removed by the end of 2021, the survey said that 75% of international events organisers said they would move their international events from Hong Kong to other countries. Around 45% of all respondents also said they can only survive for 12 months or less, if the current travel restrictions remain until the end of 2021, or if no further financial assistance is received by the end of 2021.

In February 2020, The Hong Kong government announced the roll out the anti-epidemic fund to subsidise private organisers of exhibitions and international conventions held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld-Expo 100% of the venue rental until June 2022. However, the quarantine measures have been preventing overseas exhibitors and buyers to come to the city, resulting in these event organisers cancelling their events, or postponing the events to 2022. Therefore, they have not benefited from the subsidy scheme.

The association called for the government to offer immediate financial assistance to the local convention and exhibition industry players struggling to survive amid the pandemic. It also asked the government to develop a road map of relaxed travel restrictions for business travellers so organisers of international trade fairs can plan ahead for the recruitment of exhibitors and buyers. The association said the delay of such policy will result in losing Hong Kong’s advantages and major international events to other countries.

Stuart Bailey, chairman of The Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association, said, "The convention and exhibition industry, which contributed over HK$58 billion to Hong Kong’s economy in 2018, has been in deep water since February 2020 as no international event was able to be held in Hong Kong due to travel restrictions and preventive measures. Only small-scale consumer exhibitions resumed."

He added, "The Subsidy Scheme, however, is only able to assist the convention and exhibition sector once it is practicable for events to resume, a point which trade fair organisers have yet to reach.  We urge the government to repurpose the Subsidy Scheme and provide immediate and additional financial assistance for event-related service providers.  Our industry also needs a roadmap to prepare for a strong revival.”  

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