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Issue of July 10, 1998



Hong Kong is taking another shot at positioning itself as the events capital of Asia. It’s a herculean task, but one that may just work this time, says Rosa Ocampo.

Duffus: "Fifty events over the next four to five years."

Steps to position Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia have begun, with a creation of an international event tourism division under the Hong Kong Tourist Association and a government fund of HK$100 million - for loan, grant or investment - to help producers and promoters bring more events to Hong Kong.

The fund has come about as some events targeted under the previous endeavour, Spotlight Hong Kong Towards the Millennium, failed to materialise due to the Asian economic downturn.

Head of the newly-formed international event tourism, John Duffus, says the fund will help. "Bringing events to Hong Kong, especially the bigger ones, is quite an expensive business. The Phantom of the Opera or Les
Miserables will require at least US$2-3 million upfront. These are for very heavy expenses, before you even get any revenue coming in from sale of tickets," he says.

Apart from musicals, Duffus is looking at all sorts of events - sports, pop and classical music, themed exhibitions - that will generate arrivals and publicity to Hong Kong.

Past experiences prove that special events are a huge tourist draw. When the Japanese variety show, Takarazuka, was brought to Hong Kong, 4,000 Japanese came specifically to see it. When Phantom was in Hong
Kong in 1995, two travel agencies promoted Phantom packages to Taiwan and gained at least 10,000 Taiwanese with an average spend of HK$6,000 per head.

Working with events promoters, producers and tour agencies abroad to encourage them to package tours around special events is priority.

So far, the International Event Fund has received five proposals for international events, largely from Hong Kong promoters. "If I do my job properly, we will be in a position to hand back HK$125 million (to the fund) and have at least 50 events over the next four to five years with
the objective of bringing in at least 30,000 new visitors per year and approximately HK$1 billion in business to tourism," says Duffus.

Countering complaints that Hong Kong lacks venues for special events, Duffus says while Singapore has only one concert hall with 900 seats, Hong Kong has about six concert halls and several theatres. "If you look at the calender of events, you will see that most of these venues are occupied most nights of the year," he says.

The venue "misconception" persists because "let’s be frank, Singapore has done a very good job in marketing itself as a cultural capital", he says.

Duffus concedes however that for big-scale pop concerts, there is no indoor venue at the moment apart from the Hong Kong Coloseum. But there are open-air possibilities for shows for up to 12,000 seats or more.

He says promoters have not looked closely at the Shatin racetrack, for instance, which can accommodate up to 70,000 people; HKTA is talking to the Jockey Club for the possible use of the racetrack as a venue for some special events.

Hong Kong also wants to be consumer-friendly in this endeavour.

HKTA has been printing a lot of materials and is using the Internet quite extensively for this purpose.

Another key element is to make it easy for anybody around the world to book tickets immediately through e-mail, fax and the Internet.

Duffus says by the end of the year, there will be a new system whereby tourists, through a third party, can book a seat for Hong Kong-hosted events within minutes.