Political unrest, expected to continue, has caused a drop in Hong Kong meetings and incentive travel, as well as general tourism.
Hong Kong meetings have slowed considerably six months into a wave of mass pro-democracy demonstrations. There have been hundreds of marches and rallies, often attracting hundreds of thousands of people, many of the them peaceful but some resulting in violent confrontations. The U.S. State Department in its Level 2 Travel Advisory issued on November 14 advised Americans to “exercise increased caution due to civil unrest…Protests, which can take place with little or no notice at any time of the week, are likely to continue and are often accompanied by vandalism and/or violence.”
Not surprisingly, the MICE community has been pulling back. One of the region’s major DMCs, Pacific World, has had some programs cancelled or postponed due to the unrest, reported Patricia Silvio, global marketing manager. Additionally, some clients have requested to change destinations for events scheduled to take place this year. “We understand our clients may have concerns about the situation in Hong Kong, and we will work closely together to postpone or re-route events to destinations such as Macao, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Sanya, Taiwan and Japan”—all of which are served by the DMC.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board confirmed that, while statistics are not yet in, “We have noticed the protests have led to hesitation in the meeting and incentive travel segment,” said James LaValle, MICE manager. “We appreciate that there are concerns from the MICE event planning community and feel it is important to point out that there have been many successful meetings, conferences, conventions and exhibitions held since the beginning of the present situation as well. We hope that conditions for the MICE market improve as we enter the new year.”
LaValle stressed that at present, most tourist activities continue as usual and no tourists have been harmed throughout the duration of protest. He pointed out that convention centers and hotels are not the target in any protests. Flights to and from Hong Kong are now operating as normal, and access control measures have being implemented at the airport terminal buildings to ensure smooth operations of the airport. (Travelers are recommended to allow extra time for relevant checks and arrive at the airport at least three hours before flight departure.)
For the most part, protests take place on weekends and are planned with locations known about in advance to allow for proactive planning, LaValle added. “The HKTB MICE staff in our offices around the world are prepared to discuss the unique situations around each potential group to ensure the planner and client can make a decision from a highly informed position.”
Additionally, the HKTB maintains close communication with MICE groups in Hong Kong to keep them updated and provide them with any required assistance to minimize possible interruptions to their stay in Hong Kong in the event that unforeseen circumstances arise, he said.