A new dedicated worldwide initiative, Meetings & Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK), launched at the end of last year, is backed by US$18 million funding from the Hong Kong government and aims to boost C&I business, which is already worth US$£1,350m to the destination.
“The focus of MEHK is to provide one-stop shop support for the C&I sector,” says Helen Chan, manager for conventions, exhibitions and corporate events at HKTB in the UK. Unsurprisingly, due to our shared history, the UK is one of six key C&I markets identified by HKTB. “The UK is very important, it’s the number-one market in Europe for C&I business,” adds Chan.
(With its spectacular skyline, ease of access (there are 72 direct flights a week from the UK), ever-expanding luxury hotel portfolio, quality venues, bustling markets and 24-hour nightlife, Hong Kong has plenty to offer both conference and incentive groups.
‘For clients and agencies looking for a three-night incentive, Hong Kong has more than enough to fill the program,’ says Chan. But she adds that some groups like the option of extending their stay via a twin-destination programme and combining Hong Kong with a beach resort or a completely different destination.
Conference and Incentive Travel reports that to this end, HKTB is working closely with a number of other local tourist boards to promote multi-destination itineraries. These include Beijing, key destinations within the Pearl River Delta of China – Macau, Shenzhen, Zhongshan and Guangzhou – and Sanya, which Chan describes as a ‘match made in heaven’ when twinned with Hong Kong.
Located on the southern tip of Hainan Island in the South China Sea, a 90-minute flight from Hong Kong, Sanya has long been a popular beach destination for visitors from mainland China but has more recently started to attract international attention.
Hosting the China Film Festival in 2005 and Miss World in 2007 helped raise the destination’s profile. But it ias the launch of 16 international hotel brands, including Sheraton, Crowne-Plaza, Marriott, Kempinski, Ritz-Carlton and Mandarin Oriental over the past few years that has really boosted its appeal outside the Chinese market.
Sanya Tourism Development Board deputy director Tang Sixian says international visitors to Sanya in 2007 were up 24% on 2006 to 522,000, but he admits that a lot of people haven’t heard about the destination.
‘What we now need to do as a tourist board is raise awareness, which is why we want to co-operate with the Hong Kong Tourist Board, he says.
Kim Joynes, UK and Ireland account manager at Pacific World, says the DMC has worked with a couple of groups that combined Hong Kong and Sanya and is seeing more requests for twin-centre programmes.
‘There is more interest in Sanya now people are becoming aware of it as a destination. It provides a good contrast as Hong Kong can be quite full on, whereas Sanya is very relaxed and the resorts are fantastic.”
HKTB and Sanya Tourist Board teamed up to run a joint fam trip (where fam stands, as you well know for familiarisation) for UK C&I agents in November to showcase how the two destinations can work together.
Incentivise (great new word) event manager Andrea Kelly, who was a participant, believes it’s a great pairing. ‘Clients would get to experience the hustle and bustle of one of the most cosmopolitan Asian cities alongside the calm and relaxation of the South China Sea,’ she says.
One thing that might put UK or international groups off is the fact that, unlike Hong Kong, Sanya requires a Chinese visa. But Joynes argues that it is not a difficult process to get visas for groups. A more pressing concern for most clients is the current economic situation.
With UK agents and clients both predicting that more events will stay in the UK this year, it doesn’t bode well for longer-haul destinations that require longer program.
To do Hong Kong and Sanya justice, groups would need a minimum five-night programme. ‘We would target clients with good budgets who regularly use long-haul destinations,’ says CMS Events sales and marketing manager Malcolm Ferriday.
Chan is well aware of the financial challenges facing both agents and clients and HKTB has teamed up with partners to offer incentives, such as discounts on hotel rooms and DMC services, to groups that confirm by the end of 2009. ‘We always try to address market conditions,’ she says. ‘Hong Kong offers good value, we have waived hotel tax and duty on alcohol, which all helps, and we’re doing what we can to motivate planners and help them to confirm Hong Kong against other destinations.’