Resilient industry confidence props up HICAP amid testy times for Hong Kong tourism

The 30th edition of Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP) forged on ahead in Hong Kong last week, even as months of social unrest in the city has pushed the economy into recession and dealt a particularly severe blow to the tourism and hospitality sectors.

Despite the dismal situation currently facing Hong Kong, demand from hospitality professionals were robust and filled up seats at this year’s HICAP, with hospitality leaders that TTG Asia spoke to expressing positive sentiments and maintaining confidence in the city’s long-term prospects amid the current tourism uncertainty.

Hospitality leaders at the recent HICAP said they remain optimistic about Hong Kong’s tourism and hospitality industries despite current political turmoil

BHN Group’s president Jeff Higley, one of the organisers of HICAP, pledged his commitment to Hong Hong, even though the hospitality conference registered a lower attendance of 550 delegates this year.

“We made the decision months ago to stay here while a lot of conferences were moving to other cities. We believe in being committed to the hotel, travel and tourism industries here because it’s been good for our conference over 30 years,” he said during a speech at the conference.

“This year, more than 25 per cent of delegates are CEOs, owners and presidents, while one in five are in capital market or development firms, so that means there are still a lot of negotiations and deals to be closed in the hallway and meeting rooms here.”

A delegate, who declined to be named, said that her senior executives from Europe refrained from participating in this year’s HICAP due to fear of flight delays or cancellations from the ongoing protests. “The conference attracted about 850 delegates last year so it’s about a 35 per cent drop in attendance this time round. Still, (the turnout) is better than I thought,” she said.

Paul Kitamura, head of asset management at CDL Hospitality Trust, noted a dip in attendance from previous HICAP conferences. He opined: “There was at least a critical mass (at the conference). A lot of people in the room had experiences with unrest in other parts of Asia like Jakarta and Bangkok, so I reckon to a certain extent the attendees are unfazed by (the Hong Kong protests). In short, the organiser pulled off another successful conference.”

Hong Kong-based Skymont Capital’s managing director Mark Valadao said that rather than adopting a myopic mindset about Hong Kong’s struggling hospitality industry in light of the current social unrest, many investors see the sector as a long-term proposition.

“The city (is a great meeting point) for industry leaders to discuss, network and explore opportunities together. That’s the main reason why (HICAP) was a successful event. Even this year’s conference ended with a great networking event where we met lots of interesting people, and a lot of networking and potential business opportunities come from that. For sure, the growing middle class across Asia, particularly in China and South-east Asia, are in favour for the industry’s long-term development,” he said.

Artyzen Hospitality Group’s president Robbert van der Maas remained optimistic about the city’s hospitality sector. “There are lots of voices out there saying that even though Hong Kong seems to be in the late phase of a growth economy, that can be extended quite significantly and many economists don’t see immediate black clouds behind the horizon.”

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