Extension of travel ban has put a question mark over the visit.
Last week, Hong Kong’s Health Secretary, Sophia Chan, announced that Hong Kong will extend restrictions on visitors by a further three months. Hong Kong initially introduced a travel ban on visitors from 24th March, which has already been extended and was due to expire this month. This measure has now been extended to late September. Arrivals to Hong Kong have to undergo testing upon landing, before going straight into quarantine for 14 days.
While the ‘testing on arrival’ strategy has been widely commended in the fight against the spread of coronavirus, it adds significant time to the length of travel to Hong Kong: visitors are tested straight after passing through customs, then have to wait in a hall for eight hours to receive the results. Overall, a typical ‘door to door’ journey from the UK would currently take 24 hours.
It was also announced that the current ban could yet be extended beyond the end of September, which would call into question the traditional international October buying trip to Hong Kong. The recent approval of the Hong Kong security law has added a further complication, with the possibility that the controversial measure may lead to further bouts of civil unrest, which acted as a deterrent to many international business visitors last year.
In recent weeks, numerous members of the toy community have been in touch to ask if we could gauge the current consensus as to whether the trip is likely to go ahead. Through last week’s Friday Blog and various social media posts, we have begun to receive feedback: as you would expect, at this stage, it remains distinctly mixed.
There are certainly still optimists – one commented: “You can put me down as a ‘yes’, as long as we are allowed into Hong Kong,” while several other people admitted that they would be leaving it as late as possible to make a final decision, in the hope that conditions improve significantly over the next 3-4 months.
However, many other comments struck a note of caution, while others appear to favour approaches more in keeping with the new thinking which is emerging in the post-covid19 business environment. Several people have already turned to new technology as an alternative strategy: typical comments included “Neither of us will be traveling for the balance of 2020. We are using Zoom and other video to meet and present to customers – so far so good!!” and “I’m not planning on going this October. It’s an expensive trip for a few customers and I’m already working on product meetings on zoom instead.”
Another raised the opportunity presented by digital advertising opportunities: “I will review after the summer, but my trade fair budget is allocated to a hefty web and digital presence upgrade, based on the assumption that we will not be traveling and so our digital must shine.”
Some remain undecided, while admitting that the balance of probability is currently weighted against the trip: “I’d say I’m unlikely to go – 85% certain not. Given the virus situation and the political one, that’s probably knocked it on the head for 2020. Hong Kong is a great trip, but an expensive one for smaller companies, so in the ‘new reality’ (?!) one would have to wonder whether it continues to be viable – especially when one considers that not all countries/customers visit at the same time, unlike say Nuremberg at the start of the year.”
Others have felt that the toy community faces too many international trips, and see the the current situation as an opportunity to filter out less essential travel: “It is now the moment for our industry to reconsider the traditional Toy Fair schedule. The October Hong Kong trip has devaluated over the recent years, so this is the moment to take it off the calendar and, as far as I am concerned, for good. There is no need for it and with everything going on in Hong Kong/China (and the Western world), we have other things to worry about.”
Despite some people being keen to reduce the number of international trips, others are more sanguine: “Last week’s travel announcement was a blow. October is still on my radar, but only if the permanent showrooms and hotel showrooms are making a meaningful effort and we know that a respectable amount of buyers will be going. That said, any further virus outbreak in the UK will put the tin lid on it, and should Hong Kong get hit again by the virus (which I doubt), that could stop travelling. Some buyers did not attend last October, owing to the protests. With China tearing up the 1997 agreement last week, it’s an extra concern. However, my views are based on international – mainly Asian – business: if my Asian buyers are turning up, my vendors would expect to see me there. In simple terms, it’s still too early to say.”
And one contact who lives in Hong Kong was keen to remind potential travellers of the positives: “On the upside, we have an R rate even lower than Trump’s IQ, really cheap hotel rooms and I’m free for lunch most days. Or dinner. Breakfast if you’re pushed.”
As ever, we’re keen to elicit more feedback, so if you have any thoughts or observations to contribute, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on any of the social media posts of this article.