Walk along Hong Kong's iconic harbourfront these days and you can't help but be drawn to the sites, sounds and smells of the AIA Carnival. Back after a four year break owing to the pandemic, the city's annual winter festival is a feast for the senses with its heady mix of games, live entertainers, rides, the circus, and family entertainment.
Along with title sponsor AIA, Great Entertainment Group had successfully produced six such carnivals in Hong Kong before the pandemic. This year marked its big return, an occasion the organisers were determined to make a success—initiating their planning for it way back in November 2022 (considerably earlier than usual).
"The four-year hiatus of the carnival due to the pandemic provided a significant opportunity for introspection and innovation," says Michael Denmark, founder and chairman, Great Entertainment Group. "This extended preparation enabled us to explore global trends, research what our consumers were looking for and tailor the product to suit these needs with exciting new innovation."
And title sponsor AIA says this year's edition is more important than ever as it marks the comeback of Hong Kong after a few challenging years under the pandemic.
“Being the title sponsor of this event allows us to take a leading role in revitalising the spirit of the city and demonstrates our commitment to the community,” says Melissa Wong, chief customer and marketing officer, AIA Hong Kong and Macau. “We are delighted to see that our carnival enables people to enjoy quality time together without constantly looking at their phones—except, of course, when they use them to capture all the joyful moments through photos!”
Hong Kong's largest ticketed event
Whatever was done appears to be working. Since its opening on December 21, 2023, the carnival has welcomed close to 400,000 visitors, demonstrating it still holds mass appeal and further cementing itself as Hong Kong's largest ticketed event. Notably, 'The World Circus’ attraction sponsored by UBS, has achieved a record-breaking run, with numerous sold-out shows and more than 80,000 tickets sold.
'UBS Presents The World Circus' has achieved record-breaking success with numerous sold-out shows.
UBS, the sponsors of The World Circus, say the opportunity has provided them with a platform to engage with their clients, staff and communities in a different way.
"The circus has allowed us to provide special access and exclusive experiences for our clients and staff," says Amy Lo, head and chief executive, UBS Hong Kong. "This event was suitable for people of all ages, enabling them to bring their friends and family to enjoy the experience. It is testament to the World Circus’ pulling power that more than 85,000 people have already enjoyed the show."
A key part of the carnival's continued success lies in its ability to entertain guests of all ages. This year alone, the event is home to over a million plush toys, 30 skill games, and 40 interactive installations, and features more than 200 street and stage performers.
There are also new attractions, notably in the form of 'Live at the Big Top presented by UBS'. In partnership with Warner Music, it features a unique series of live music performances from both local and international artists, including DJ sets, an Abba-tribute sing-along, orchestral performances, and more.
Brand partners and sponsors prove critical to the carnival's success
In addition to new attractions, one significant evolution this year is the expansion of the carnival's partnership network. Among them UBS, Lego, Lan Kwai Fong Group, Trip.com, The Sandbox, Cathay, Mercedes and The Renaissance Hotel, all of whom have helped to bring new content, reach and innovation to the event.
For instance, Trip.com has made it possible for the carnival to benefit from the surge of visitors from the Greater Bay Area this year, which is in line with the goals of the Hong Kong government, and naturally, brings in welcome visitors.
"The success of our carnival owes much to our title sponsor, AIA, for their vision, trust, belief and unwavering support through the roller coaster ride that is running a show over 67 days straight," says Denmark. "But all of our brand partners and sponsors are critical, providing both financial and strategic support essential for bringing the carnival to life."
Importantly, sponsors bring unique content and interactive activations. A standout this year is Lego, who dazzle with their massive immersive play area and shop constructed like Lego bricks. They also have a gigantic Lego figure ruling over the carnival, along with equally spectacular Lego Lunar New Year dragons. Previously, Lego created Santa out of tens of thousands of Lego bricks.
Lego, who dazzle with their massive immersive play area and shop constructed like Lego bricks.
Meanwhile, Mercedes has a driving school for kids, as well as a street artist painted family car. AIA has a state of the art 360 digital AI photo op, plus interactive spaces throughout the site. There's also mascots from Don Don Donki, Ocean Park, and a collaboration with Disneyland with a giant Olaf promoting the launch of their brand new Frozen world, and the list goes on.
Sponsors are more like partners
It's clear sponsorships have played an instrumental part in keeping the carnival the big draw that it has become. But for both long-standing partnerships, like those with Benefit, Cathay, and Jebsens, to newer partners like Trip.com and The Sandbox, these sponsorships are what organisers describe as being "more like a partnership", which involves more than just [brands] sitting back and enjoying their logo up in lights.
"I’m not saying that’s not important, it’s still the key to ensure the brand is front and centre (or at least side-by-side), but the depth of thinking about the layers of internal and external opportunities to collaborate with new partners, do good in the community, inspire their staff and make their clients/consumers proud, has reached an incredibly exciting point right now, in my humble opinion," says Denmark. "The thinking is dynamic and the action is fast. We're seeing more measured risk taking into non-traditional spaces for traditionally strict and formulaic brands and it’s a joy to behold!"
Speaking of community, this year the carnival's collaboration includes over 150 community partners and more than 1,500 performers, in an ongoing commitment to the community and celebration of culture throughout Hong Kong.
"In addition to our long-standing partnerships, we're also proactive in seeking new sponsors that can add fresh and exciting dimensions," says Denmark. "Very simply, we're keen to work with open minded brands with strong brand values that are happy to collaborate and share the limelight whilst rolling up their sleeves for the good of the community."
Revolutionising the AIA Carnival experience
Among these innovations is the carnival's first foray into the metaverse via a collaboration with The Sandbox. Through the integration of virtual and IRL (in real life) activities, this partnership offers visitors a singular experience that transcends both worlds. It also includes a single-player interactive game within The Sandbox’s metaverse, extending the carnival excitement into the virtual world.
innovations is the carnival's first foray into the metaverse via a collaboration with The Sandbox.
"The partnership between The Sandbox and the AIA Carnival is a testament to the power of the metaverse to create experiences that seamlessly blend the real and the virtual," says Sebastien Borget, co-founder and COO of The Sandbox. "As the AIA Carnival returns for the first time in four years, visitors can now enjoy the AIA Carnival in-person on the Central Harbourfront—and also on The Sandbox platform. It’s been a huge pleasure for us to be part of this event this year."
Crypto payments are another new addition in collaboration with hi.com, a crypto payments solution. Visitors can use The Sandbox’s 'Sand' tokens for purchasing items such as popcorn or drinks, demonstrating the utility token’s real-world applications, and marking a potential first for Hong Kong events of this scale.
"Our collaboration with The Sandbox, venturing into the metaverse, guiding us to the momentous new step into accepting crypto payments for products such as popcorn, represents a significant leap in how we present the carnival across the generations," says Denmark.
Where does the Carnival go from here?
Now an annual tradition for many, the AIA Carnival continues to be a platform for partners ranging from NGOs, to charities, to schools, the Government, and of course the private sector.
But now in its seventh edition, how will it remain fresh and appealing for years to come if it's to continue being a staple of Hong Kong's annual cultural calendar?
"I believe the product itself will never get stale as long as we continue to listen to our customers and partners, encourage creative collaboration, celebrate the whole community and welcome all people from all walks of life to come and enjoy a moment of magic with us and their multigenerational families," says Denmark. "As long as we have the opportunity to take advantage of the privilege of working on this iconic piece of land, with the ever evolving skyline framing us, we will continue to evolve the cultural phenomenon that resonates with the people and spirit of Hong Kong, the AIA Carnival."