The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed rail (HSR) rolled out with the expected fanfare earlier this week, after some initial hue and cry over its eye-watering $10.8 billion price tag and controversial border procedures. The 14-minute journey time from Hong Kong to Shenzhen is impressive on its own, especially for business travellers, even though passenger numbers have fallen short of the 80,000 estimates in the first three days of operation. Not to mention that there have been more inbound than outbound trips.
For many obvious reasons, the events industry in Hong Kong is expected to benefit first from infrastructure developments in the Greater Bay Area, such as the HSR, said Mark Cochrane, regional manager, UFI. What this translates to is an uptick of mainland visitors to exhibitions in Hong Kong in the long haul, he explained.
Making the commute
While there has been more focus on Hong Kong-mainland commuters currently, some critics have earlier pointed out that overseas visitors flying in to the Hong Kong are more likely to get on the direct train and ferry from the airport to Shenzen and Guangzhou respectively, rather than taking the extra journey to Kowloon in the city to board the HSR.
"I’m not too worried about the HSR, it’s been needed for some time, it’s very welcome now that it is here,” said Stuart Bailey, chairman of Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association (HKECIA). He believes that the high-profile nature of the HSR will serve itself well with international travellers.
“What I would be more worried about is the bridge,” referring to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which is expected to open next month. Sceptics maintain that ferry trips from the piers in Hong Kong to Macau are not inconvenient, while overseas visitors can also board the ferry from the airport.
In a wider outlook on the impact of the HSR on venues in the Greater Bay region, two of the key venues in Hong Kong—the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and the AsiaWorld-Expo—generally enjoy a healthy occupancy during the peak periods of March-May and September-November. UFI’s Cochrane did not think that the HSR will make any impact on occupancy rate on venues in Hong Kong, even though there is now better connectivity to mainland cities.
The same cannot be said for venues across the border, where the Shenzhen World Exhibition and Conference Center will open its doors next year, boasting a space of 500,000 sqm. “Shenzhen has had quite a few wall-bound events for several years," Cochrane said. "I expect that Shenzhen World will unlock a lot of pent-up growth when it opens next year. The HSR may serve to give some of the key events in Shenzhen and Guangzhou a boost with more Hong Kong participants, but it will not be a game changer."