One of the world’s largest book fairs drew to a close in Hong Kong on Tuesday, with mixed results for the participants as attendance fell due to traffic woes amid anti-government protests in the city.
A total of 980,000 people attended the Hong Kong Book Fair this year, the first time the annual event saw visitor numbers drop below the one-million mark since 2014, figures released by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) showed.
While attendance at the week-long event fell to the lowest in five years, there was however some cause for cheer as average spending of the visitors was up compared to 2018.
Visitors spent HK$875 on average, 8 percent more than last year, according to the HKTDC, which organized the event at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Book vendors saw varying sales results. Carol Lam Ming-lai, sales and marketing manager for publishing house Popular Hong Kong, said in their case, the traffic was worse than 2003 when Hong Kong was hit by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis.
Lam said her firm’s booth recorded sales decline of 15 percent.
The situation was particularly “horrible” on Sunday, when the city saw special traffic arrangements due to a large-scale rally by Hongkongers in continuing protests triggered by the now-suspended extradition bill, according to Lam.
Traffic worries were believed to have kept many potential book lovers from traveling to the Wan Chai area on Hong Kong Island, the venue of the book fair.
Lam said things might have been better if there was a shuttle bus service to take visitors to the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Some booth owners, however, said they recorded higher sales despite all the problems.
Jeremy Tse, Publishing Manager of Starry Night Publications, claimed that his firm saw sales increase by 20 percent during the book fair this year.
The best-selling book was a collection of Hong Kong-themed detective stories, he said. Incidentally, Tse’s firm had set up a so-called Lennon Wall in its booth, which helped attract visitors.
Benjamin Chau Kai-Leung, HKTDC’s deputy executive director, said Hongkongers are still passionate about the book fair and other cultural activities.
The room was packed when famous science fiction writer Ngai Hong delivered a talk during the just-concluded event, Chau said, giving an example.
Since 2016, book donation points have been introduced for exhibitors to donate books. Non-profit organizations will then pass them to those in need.
Three organizations including Christian Action, Chu Kong Plan and The Salvation Army participated to help this year. During the 2018 Book Fair, a total of 65 boxes of books were donated.