Written by Stuart Bailey, CEO; Bailey Communications Hong Kong Ltd.
A journalist asked me this week for a comment on the impact for the events taking place in Hong Kong over the last two weeks and whether it will have an impact on future international events that the city might host. I thought it was an interesting question one which had I been asked at the beginning of the week before meeting with colleagues from around the world I probably would have given a different answer then after speaking with people who had watched and read accounts of the protests different from those I had seen.
As with many things perspective is everything, I have spent most of the week in Shanghai attending the Global Exhibition CEO Summit, an event which brings together delegates from all corners of the world, many friends who I have known for years. I was surprised when upon seeing a friend from Australia she greeted me warmly and asked if I was okay? This puzzled me at first but she soon explained that she had seen the “riots” on television back home and had concluded from the pictures that half of the city is a war-zone! I reassured her that it was no such thing and that apart from a relatively small number of people the protest demonstrations had been largely peaceful. As I met more and more colleagues from Europe, US and all over, they had all got a similar impression of the protests.
Therefore to answer the question of whether it changes the image of the city and has an effect on meetings and events? Yes, it certainly does damage the city’s image to have such incidents take place. I am sure that international meeting organisers who do not have staff in Hong Kong to speak to would think twice before deciding to hold a MICE event in a city which they regard as unstable. It can take a long time to rebuild a reputation as a great MICE destination, so I feel that it is important for the government (HKTB) to give a very clear message that Hong Kong remains a safe and stable place to come for business or leisure travel.
I recall speaking to colleagues from Koelnmesse, who run many events in Bogotá (Colombia), I remarked that that must be a dangerous place to run events. They told me that in fact it is regarded it as probably one of the safest cities in South America, they said that all of the negative impressions of the city stemmed from the drug-cartel days all of which was brought to an end some 20 years ago. I recall them saying they blamed the Colombian government for not doing enough to communicate that the country had changed from those times and that the only difficulty they faced was not security but convincing people from overseas to come and visit.
The right to peaceful protest that Hong Kong citizens enjoy is a great thing and should be celebrated, but the media will always look to sensationalize events and focus on the small minority rather than the millions who act responsibly. We all hope that the situation will settle down quickly and we can get back to focusing on why Hong Kong is a great city to visit rather than having to reassure people that it is a safe place to visit.
Stuart Bailey, CEO; Bailey Communications Hong Kong Ltd.