HKCEC phase-3 development is urgent to boost business tourism
Earlier this year, a report on world tourism competitive power showed that Hong Kong has fallen three places to rank 15th, while Singapore, often used to make comparisons with our city, ranked in the top 10 for three years in a row, becoming the only one in Asia to rank that high. Hong Kong must find different ways to narrow the gap.
The Economic Development Commission appointed by the Chief Executive held its second meeting days ago. At the meeting, the Working Group on Convention and Exhibition Industries and Tourism under the commission pointed out that Hong Kong shouldn’t turn away any tourists, and should endeavor to attract groups of high-value consumption. The group also said that the convention and exhibition attendees or visitors have contributed greatly to the local economy, so the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) is in desperate need of phase-3 development.
I fully concur with this suggestion, and believe that one of the reasons for Hong Kong’s lower tourism competitive power is that business tourism is more or less neglected. In recent years, as the Individual Visit Scheme has been carried out, leisure tourism is gradually taking over. The newlyestablished scenic spots in Hong Kong are mainly for leisure tourism, including Disneyland, Ngong Ping 360, and others. Relatively speaking, the approximate facilities for business have seen no significant improvement.
To attract high-consumption business visitors, the number of large-scale international conventions or exhibitions must be increased to form an incentive. In 1994, Hong Kong’s convention and exhibition ranking was second in Asia, but it’s now not even in the top 20. Confronting the competition of other cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macao, Hong Kong really needs to redress the development of this industry.
The most severe challenge is land shortage. Although the HKCEC finished its phase-2 development in 2009, usage has been saturated since last year. In the past three years, HKCEC has declined 44 exhibition applications and 89 convention applications, 13 of which are trading exhibitions. We can just imagine how much trade income we have sacrificed because of a lack of space.
Actually, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council handed in a phase-3 development proposal in 2003, which suggested using the current Wan Chai Sports Ground as the new site for expansion, and then rebuilding the sports ground at the top of the phase-3 building, to ensure the whole plan would not jeopardize leisure facilities. However, the plan was objected to by local residents; moreover, it’s not a very feasible project. So far, therefore, there is no final decision on how to expand the exhibition and convention area.
As far as I’m concerned, the current location of the three government buildings in Wan Chai is the perfect choice, namely, the Revenue Tower, Immigration Tower and Wan Chai Tower. The SAR government is planning to move all these departments to other places, so that such a convenient place could be used for commercial purposes. So why don’t the authorities consider reconstructing these three buildings and converting them into phase-3 areas?
The government towers are closely located to the current HKCEC site, and are well equipped with mature transportation facilities, including MTR and bus stations. In this case, it’s convenient that we can only build pedestrian bridges and MTR exits to scatter the crowds when big events are being held. If we only transform the buildings instead of knocking them down and rebuild, we can even save HK$1 billion. At the moment, the rentable area of HKCEC is about 90,000 square meters. If the above-stated plan is adopted, another 30,000 square meters will be added to the whole center.
Moreover, the government buildings are adjacent to Hong Kong Art School, so that some large exhibitions can adopt local creativity and culture; the other way around, theatrical performances can use HKCEC sites, elevating the taste of Hong Kong arts and developing local creative industries.