Sophia Chong, assistant executive director of Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), tells Caroline Boey how the city is evolving as an international business events hub and gateway to China
What does HKTDC do?
We are a statutory body with 50 years of experience and operate more than 40 offices worldwide. HKTDC is tasked to create opportunities for Hong Kong’s businesses, in particular SMEs, to trade with the world – including the mainland and international markets.
Our role is to promote Hong Kong as an effective business platform, and organise international exhibitions, conferences and business missions.
What key tradeshow trends has HKTDC identified for its strategic growth?
HKTDC has refashioned some of its trade fairs into lifestyle events – which feature renowned brands and public days at selected fairs to promote directly to consumers.
High-tech elements are also driving exhibitions across industries. Increasingly, shows like the Electronics Fairs for example present popular technology like VR/AR, robotics, smart home, wearable electronics, 3D printing and much more.
In recent years, Hong Kong’s start-up ecosystem has been growing rapidly. The Startup zone was set up to tap this development and can be found in exhibitions and conferences including the Electronics Fairs, ICT Expo, Houseware Fair, Gifts & Premium Fair, Medical Devices and Supplies Fair, Eco Expo Asia, SmartBiz Expo and Asian Financial Forum.
Sourcing in small orders is also another market trend, and HKTDC has introduced the HKTDC Small Orders zone at selected trade fairs that feature suppliers’ products in minimum order quantities of between five and 1,000 pieces.
What is HKTDC’s focus in the next two to three years?
With the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link Hong Kong Section soon to be completed, Hong Kong will further enhance its connectivity to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area cities.
HKTDC trade fairs, which have long served as the preferred platform for mainland enterprises to go global, will benefit. We will adopt a cluster approach based on the sectoral strengths of individual Bay Area economies.
For example, the Henglan and Zhongshan Semiconductor Lighting Industry Association can ride on the Lighting Fair (Spring Edition) to promote their lighting products to overseas buyers. By the same token, European and US companies can also make use of HKTDC fairs to sell to the Bay Area, with a population of over 60 million people.
HKTDC is also riding on the proliferation of e-commerce. We are collaborating with renowned e-tailers, especially those targeting ASEAN and other emerging markets – where consumers have high purchasing power – to help Hong Kong exporters tap into the fast-growing global e-tailing market.
How is HKTDC capitalising on Hong Kong’s convenient entry point for international and Chinese tradeshow buyers and sellers?
Hong Kong’s close proximity to the mainland and other Asian countries makes it a premier gateway between the East and West. Ranked as the world’s freest economy, Hong Kong is the ideal springboard for enterprises to tap into the international and Chinese mainland markets.
We organise more than 30 fairs annually, including 11 of the largest marketplaces of their kind in Asia, with jewellery, gifts, watches and clocks, electronics and lighting fairs being the largest of their kind in the world.
For the 2017/18 fiscal year, HKTDC’s fairs attracted more than 39,000 exhibitors from 90 countries and regions, and over 750,000 buyers from 199 countries and regions, affirming the city’s reputation as Asia’s trade fair capital.
In the coming years, we would expect more South-east Asian buyers to make use of our trade fair platform for sourcing.
What new infrastructure will Hong Kong need to support future growth?
The supply of exhibition space is tight during peak seasons. We have taken the approach of “two shows, two venues” for our mega exhibitions. One example is the Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl Show (IDGPS) held at AsiaWorld-Expo, and the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show (IJS) held at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC).
Due to the space constraint at HKCEC, since 2014, we split the Jewellery Show into two fairs, with IJS focusing on finished jewellery products and IDGPS specialising in jewellery raw materials, to ensure both shows have space for further development. Thus, we are able to put together the largest jewellery marketplace in the world hosting more than 4,550 exhibitors from 52 countries and regions, and about 87,000 buyers from 145 countries and regions in 2018.
We also convert areas like foyers and parking facilities into temporary exhibition space. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government proposed in the 2017 Policy Address that a study on developing new convention and exhibition venues be undertaken.
What is HKTDC doing to enhance Hong Kong’s attractiveness as a business events destination?
With HKTDC’s extensive network of 48 offices globally, including 13 on the mainland, we organise buying missions from around the world to source at our fairs, offering ample opportunities for exhibitors to reach potential buyers.
We maximise connectivity between buyers and exhibitors through our trade fair platform by offering business matching, networking events, buyers’ guided tours, product demonstrations, etc.
To encourage suppliers to use the online-to-offline platform, we have enhanced the sourcing function of our tradeshow websites by launching the year-round Exhibition Online platform. It is an online extension of the physical exhibition to facilitate business discussions between suppliers and buyers beyond the fair period.
With all that HKTDC is doing, what results have you seen so far?
For Hong Kong to remain competitive, it is important to nurture start-ups and a new generation of entrepreneurs who embrace new technologies and have a global perspective.
HKTDC’s debut of the Startup zone at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair 2016 (Autumn Edition) featured 48 start-ups, which received positive response from buyers, investors, exhibitors and the media. Riding on the success, the Startup zone returned in subsequent Electronics Fairs. In the most recent Electronics Fair 2018 (Spring Edition), and the concurrent International ICT Expo, and the number of start-up exhibitors grew to more than 100.
The start-ups are enjoying the valuable opportunity to conduct market validation by presenting their concepts, products and projects to global buyers and potential investors through a series of start-up themed events.
HKTDC is also collaborating with start-up accelerators and incubators to organise Smart Launch sessions for sharing, mentoring, pitching and investment matchmaking.