Hong Kong’s government has announced that the city’s annual Chinese New Year fireworks display is the latest major event to have been cancelled due to the city’s civil unrest.
According to a report by SCMP, the attraction - which is immensely popular with residents and tourists alike - that was due to take place on 26 January has been cancelled by the government under the rationale of safety concerns. This follows the cancellation of the New Years Eve fireworks on 31 December 2019 and is one of many since the city's social unrest began in June 2019 following the government's introduction of an incredibly unpopular extradition bill.
The SCMP report cited that tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing commented on the CNY fireworks cancellation that although it was an understandable safety decision, “It is not good for Hong Kong’s reputation.”
His comments were echoed by Home affairs minister Lau Kong-wah. Meanwhile, lawmaker Lau Kwok-fun was quoted in the article as placing the blame entirely on protesters for not ceasing their activities. A noticeable omission by any government representatives was a failure to mention any concerns about the aggressive behaviour of police at public gatherings as a factor, despite it having been a problem at events such as 2019's Halloween festivities.
But even as this decision and the arguments being made for its necessity are not entirely unexpected, it is unlikely to be taken well by locals or visitors. Though the event has been stopped in previous years (as recently as 2018 following a horrific bus crash in Tai Po) as a Hong Kong calendar highlight, this year's cancellation is likely to further hurt the city’s spiralling brand. A brand which is not having the greatest success at being rebuilt by any of its official bodies.
One such misstep occurred only yesterday when Brand HK released a perky video on social media claiming Hong Kong had extensive freedoms - including freedom of travel - only days after the head of Human Rights Watch was denied entry to the city. The ad not only got its fair share of angry and sarcastic replies due to the poor timing of the release but even inspired a lampoon.
Whatever the future holds, it would seem that Hong Kong's legislative and commercial leaders need to snap out of doing the motions and realise that the territory's image hangs in the balance. Neither the blame game or blindly ignoring the city's issues have been well received, a change of tack with more thoughtful handling may be required moving forward.
Do you work in the industry and have any thoughts to share on how Hong Kong could do better at its branding in the current climate? Drop us a line.