Back into the hubbub

Monica Lee-Müller, managing director of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management), says her venue has emerged stronger and wiser from a pandemic-induced hibernation, helping it to successfully run its first physical exhibition in months

What was it like to run the first exhibition since the Covid-19 outbreak?
Everyone was excited. The entire Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (Management) (HML) team worked together to make sure every detail was well thought through.

We have demonstrated our strength in providing professional services and customer care for the organiser of the 98th Hong Kong Wedding Fair, exhibitors and visitors, while maintaining a safe, hygienic and comfortable event environment.

It was a thrill to see exhibitors and soon-to-wed couples engaging in enthusiastic discussions. Their smiles were obvious even under face masks. It’s a beautiful wedding show and ‘love’ was in the air!

What else is Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) doing to reassure future exhibitors and visitors?
Throughout the last few months, HML has continued to communicate with our local and international customers, and stakeholders, on the latest situation, addressing their needs and concerns. As much as possible, we have extended flexibility for rescheduling their events.

With the success of the Wedding Fair, we shared our experience to assure customers that we are indeed ready and confident to welcome their events back to the HKCEC. Photos and videos have been sent to our customer database and via traditional and social media platforms to demonstrate HML’s strength and professional services and hygiene measures.

Experience at the Wedding Fair has also been shared with other exhibition organisers for consideration at their own events.

Is the MICE sector getting enough support help from the government?
The Hong Kong SAR government has a series of relief measures for different industries, employers, employees and the general public. For the exhibition and convention industry, an allocation of over HK$1,020 million (US$130 million) will be injected to subsidise exhibition and convention organisers and participants, in order to reinvigorate Hong Kong’s reputation as the event capital of Asia.

Although not directly benefiting from the scheme, HML appreciates the financial support from the government, which serves as a timely relief measure for the industry that has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It recognises the significant contribution of the exhibition and convention industry to the economy of Hong Kong. We believe that organisers of exhibitions and international conferences will benefit and events can resume normal soon.

What are your predictions on Hong Kong’s MICE recovery?
Vast majority of exhibitions in the HKCEC are recurrent and well established in the business calendar of the respective industries. Despite recent challenges, these events are staying with Hong Kong and HKCEC.

The 98th Hong Kong Wedding Fair was well attended. The 99th version of the event will be held from June 12 to 14, 2020. There are many other events lined up afterwards. Some of them are at their original time slots. For example, the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, along with Hong Kong Sports & Leisure Expo and other associated events, will take place as planned from July 15 to 21, 2020, taking up almost the entire HKCEC.

What operational changes will happen as events return?
HML, and other MICE and travel industry members, have implemented preventive measures since the breakout of Covid-19. I believe these stringent hygiene considerations are not one-off. They will become the ‘new normal’ even after the pandemic subsides. Design of facilities and procedure in all aspects of the industry must be adjusted accordingly, to meet the market’s growing health and safety concern.

Another escalating trend during the pandemic has been the wide adoption of Zoom or other similar virtual meeting technology as a means of social distancing. Some are predicting that this kind of technology will replace exhibitions and conferences after Covid-19.

However, I strongly believe that technology can never fully replace face-to-face interactions in building a long-term relationship and trusted business partnership. Human beings, after all, are social beings!

For example, Hong Kong’s exhibition portfolio comprises events that showcase high-value, sophisticated products and services that cannot be fully appreciated through visuals and descriptions on a website. Wine needs to be tasted. High-quality fabrics and expensive jewellery need to be felt. Art pieces and antiques need to be appreciated in their original glamour.

I am however mindful that we are in an increasingly competitive environment in which businessmen and professionals are becoming more selective about event attendance.

This drives me and my HML colleagues to ever strive for improvement. I am also mindful that there will be more demand for hybrid events. One of HKCEC’s anchor exhibitions, Art Basel, initiated an online platform this year with the full physical version to return in March 2021. This kind of new business model will require creative planning from the organisers and infrastructure support from venues.

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