The fusion of East meets West influences Hong Kong’s culture today as much as it has in the past.
“Hong Kong is truly international, but you can have an extremely local experience,” says Gilly Wong, general manager of Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong, a division of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “That’s something unique, like a special bottle of wine that blends its flavors. We blend our Chinese culture with the British influence.”
To attract more business, Hong Kong promotes its cross-cultural mix—five-star hotels alongside UNESCO heritage buildings, upscale cruise ships docking near restored Chinese junks, Dior and Chanel megastores around the corner from local night markets, sleek new underground metro stops juxtaposed against a centuries-old, street-level tramway system.
The largest cultural project in Hong Kong to date is currently under development, with an eye toward boosting tourism and group business. The West Kowloon Cultural District will encompass world-class exhibitions, performances, and arts and cultural events, and will include 17 cultural venues and more than 320,000 square feet of space for arts education. Venues are slated to open in phases beginning in 2015.
While Hong Kong plays up its cultural milieu, much of the destination’s appeal for groups is the ease of doing business, according to Wong. There are 77 nonstop flights from five U.S. cities and visa-free access to more than 170 countries, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico. In addition, purchases made in Hong Kong do not incur VAT or sales taxes, there is zero import tax for exhibits, and there are no controls over imports and exports for exhibitions.
Safety and ease of access are also primary considerations, according to Wong.
“The U.S. is a strong trade partner, with 1,300 U.S. companies with regional offices here,” Wong says. “Annually, we receive 150,000 guests a year from the U.S. for the MICE market. We’re hoping for that number to be 200,000 soon. We’re also the trade fair capital of Asia, with over 100 trade fairs every year.”
For recurrent trade exhibitions with over 10,000 overseas participants, a dedicated immigration counter is available at the Hong Kong International Airport to facilitate immigration clearance.
In 2011, Hong Kong received a record 42 million visitors from around the world. The U.S. remains the largest long-haul market, with 1.2 million arrivals in 2011, representing a 3.5 percent increase.
“The U.S. has been a very close partner in the past 10 years and we’ll have a lot more to offer in the next 10 years,” Wong says.
Meanwhile, the choice of venues and hotel space continues to grow in Hong Kong, which is expected to have more than 235 hotels and more than 70,000 hotel rooms by the end of 2013.
The destination is also home to large meeting spaces like AsiaWorld-Expo, Cyberport Conference & Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre and Hongkong International Trade & Exhibition Centre, as well as mega-hotels such as L’hotel Nina et Convention Centre, with 1,493 rooms, and the Regal Airport Hotel, Hong Kong International Airport, with 1,171 rooms.
Infrastructure improvements include the building of a bridge from Southern China to Hong Kong—The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge—and a high-speed train to Beijing, which will make the nearly 1,400-mile trip in under eight hours. The bridge is due for completion in 2016, while the rail date is still to be determined.
“Groups will be able to meet in the morning and get to Beijing in time for dinner,” Wong says.
The former Kai Tak Airport in East Kowloon, which served as the international airport until 1998, is being transformed into a cruise terminal, which is expected to commence operation in mid-2013 and will offer open space for group functions.
Last year was a busy one for new group venues and hotels. In Kowloon, Sky100 debuted, an observation deck located on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Center (ICC) financial building, the tallest in Hong Kong and fourth-highest in the world. Sky100 offers 360-degree views and is available for cocktail parties and other functions.
Towering above Sky100 is The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, which occupies the top 17 floors of the 118-floor ICC building and claims to be the world’s highest hotel. Its 312 guest rooms, which debuted last year, sport a sleek, trendy design.
“We work closely with the W Hong Kong and Sky100, which all belong to the same owners,” says Eric Loh, director of sales for The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. “We help sell Hong Kong as a destination.”
Also on Kowloon, the 259-room Hotel Icon opened on the top 19 floors of the 28-story Hong Kong Polytechnic University complex, which also houses the School of Hotel and Tourism Management.
On Hong Kong Island, the Dorsett Regency Hotel Hong Kong debuted last year, as did the Best Western Hotel Causeway Bay.
This year has also been busy with developments such as L’Hotel Elan, slated to open in Kowloon this year with 258 rooms, and L’Hotel West Kowloon at Mongkok, which is under construction with 249 rooms. Also slated to open this year is the 441-room Rosedale Hotel Kowloon, the Dorsett Regency Kwun Tong and the Best Western Grand Hotel in Kowloon.
On Hong Kong Island, the 550-room Ibis Hong Kong Sheung Wan, the 460-room Best Western Hotel Harbour View Hong Kong and the 150-room Hotel Indigo Hong Kong are scheduled to debut this year. Meanwhile, Sun Hun Kai Properties is building a 350-room Crowne Plaza hotel, a 176-room Vega Suites hotel and a 300-room Holiday Inn hotel at Tseung Kwan O Station as parts of a comprehensive hotel and shopping complex. Crowne Plaza is scheduled to open this year, while the other two are slated to debut in 2014.
Additionally, the Courtyard Marriott Hotel, featuring 548 guest rooms, will open this year in the Sha Tin area of the New Territories, while Dorsett Regency Kwai Chung, with 560 guest rooms, is also scheduled to debut this year in the New Territories.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disneyland is expanding in phases, set for completion in 2013. The expansion will add 30 new attractions.