It’s an acknowledged fact that Hong Kong needs to diversify its tourism industry and market itself as something more than just a shopping haven.
With mainland tourists increasingly opting for other overseas destinations following a wave of anti-mainlander protests in Hong Kong, it has become critical for “Asia’s World City” to draw up a fresh strategy to lure more visitors.
Experts have called for increased emphasis on things such as eco-tourism and cultural tours to let the world know that the city has much more to offer beside glitzy malls and dining outlets.
In this respect, there’s definitely a strength that the city could play up better: its Cantopop might.
Ask young tourists in the city about the purpose of their visit, and quite often you are likely to come up with an answer that they are here for concerts or other entertainment events. It is especially so during the summer break or around the New Year.
Part of the still robust Hong Kong entertainment industry, Cantopop is a local pride and one of the emblems of the city’s soft power. Heartthrobs and pop idols like Eason Chan, Sammi Cheng, Miriam Yeung and even the late Leslie Cheung continue to have numerous faithful groupies.
As a mainlander in Hong Kong, I repeatedly hear sincere compliments from Chinese visitors about how well-orchestrated Hong Kong concerts are and how cheap the tickets are given the quality of the performances.
Hosting more concerts and cultural events will help the city shore up its tourist numbers.
But the government needs to sort out some issues regarding concert venues. The plain fact is that Hong Kong requires much larger arenas to stage grand music carnivals and shows.
It’s true that the inverted pyramid-shaped Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom has become a cultural landmark over decades. Since its 1984 inauguration, the place has been a witness to the rise of Cantopop as it hosted countless concerts and awards ceremonies.
That said, we must admit that the indoor arena, the largest of its kind in Asia-Pacific back then with 12,500 seats, has been dwarfed by newer and more advanced facilities in neighboring cities in the region.
Taipei Dome, slated to be operational next year, has 40,575 seats on top of the adjacent Taipei Arena which can accommodate 15,000 spectators. Tokyo Dome, built in 1988, can put an audience of 70,000 under one roof while the Gocheok Dome in Seoul can house 30,000 people.
The capacity of Singapore Indoor Stadium in the city’s Sports Hub is similar to that of the Hong Kong Coliseum with 12,000 seats, but the newly built National Stadium has a seating capacity of 55,000 and is now a preferred venue for mega events and large scale pop concerts in the Lion City.
Our local counterpart, Hong Kong Stadium, rebuilt in 1994 near Happy Valley with 40,000 seats, can hardly yield similar synergy with the Hong Kong Coliseum due to separate locations and strong complaints about noise pollution from nearby Tai Hang residents.
AsiaWorld-Arena near the airport is the only new indoor venue built over the years but its maximum capacity is merely 14,000 as it is part of an exhibition facility and transport from downtown is a hassle.
The scale effect is apparent: the bigger a venue is, the more fans one single concert can entertain, which translates into lower overall costs and lower ticket prices.
We have repeatedly seen that concert organizers have to run extra shows after limited tickets, as determined by a venue’s seating capacity, are sold out in the face of strong demand, an indicator of Hong Kong’s buoyant entertainment market and inadequate performing facilities.
In a joint petition last month, Hong Kong Composers and Authors Society and Performing Industry Association demanded that the government attach more significance to event-driven visitors like concert-goers amid the wave of MICE (meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions) tourism and expedite construction of more versatile, purpose-built venues.
Since concerts are usually held at night, visitors most likely will stay overnight and they wouldn’t mind spending more on other forms of leisure and entertainment during their stay.
We have already seen that during prime pop concert seasons each year or when international divas are in town, more than half of the audience can be from the mainland, Taiwan, South Korea and Southeastern Asian nations.
More venues mean more events and in turn more visitors and revenue.
The two industry associations recommend a 35,000-seat “Hong Kong Dome”, citing estimates by the Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel & Tourism Management that such new facility can create 16,397 new jobs and bring an extra of HK$5.2 billion to the city’s tourism industry.
The government has proposed a 50,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof within the Sports Complex at Kai Tak but there is still no definitive timetable for implementation, with filibustering in the legislature a major uncertainty.
The Hong Kong Dome, even if endorsed by the government, may also face similar delays. Some have advised that the Shatin and Happy Valley racecourses be modified in the interim to host concerts.
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