Big-spending HK Tourism Board slammed over mega events that failed to attract many visitors

27-Nov-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s tourism promoter splashed hundreds of millions of dollars on mega events to entice visitors in the years before the economic downturn, only to receive a lukewarm response, according to the government audit watchdog.

In a review conducted in May on the performance between 2014-15 and 2018-19 of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, a government-subvented body, the Audit Commission questioned the effectiveness of some large events and sponsorship management while slamming its poor corporate governance.

Examining 32 mega events held between 2015-16 and 2018-19, the watchdog revealed on Wednesday that nearly two-thirds, or 20 shows, had no information on proposed budgets. Out of the remaining 12 events where budget information was stated, only four had details on processes such as staging, marketing and promotions.

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Events which did not have any budgetary information for four years in a row were the iconic International Chinese New Year Night Parade organised annually during Lunar New Year, and the annual Wine and Dine Festival in late autumn.

Upon completion of a mega event, the commission found insufficient information on performance and actual expenses. For example, the eSports Musical Festival Hong Kong was the only one out of nine mega events in 2018-19 that came with a report on how it fared.

None of the actual expenditure of nine mega events was reported to the board’s product and event committee, the vetting body for such activities.

In 2018-19, the board spent HK$289 million on staging, marketing and promotion of mega events.

Hong Kong tourism notched up a record year in 2018, with an all-time high of arrivals, at 65.15 million, including 78 per cent of them from mainland China. The figures were 11.4 per cent higher than 2017.

But the audit report found that the number of visitors who attended mega events “was on the low side”, pointing out that the key objectives of such events were to drive arrivals to the city.

During the five-year period to March 31, 2018, only 9 per cent of visitors to the eSports and Music Festival were non-locals, a ratio which shrank to 7 per cent in 2019.

Awareness of the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival, held annually in summer, also fell from 58 per cent in 2014-15 to 37 per cent in 2018-19 after peaking at 75 per cent in 2015-16.

Another example was the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, which saw event awareness slump from 33 per cent in 2017-18 to 28 per cent in 2018-19 after reduced spending on marketing and promotion. Marketing costs were cut 59 per cent to HK$19.5 million in 2018-19.

The commission called for the board to set up an effective mechanism to assess the performance of mega events.

While saying it would heed the suggestions, the board pointed out that overseas participation in some mega events showed a rising trend.

For example, during the four years to 2018, overseas visitors’ participation in the wine and dine event jumped to more than 60 per cent. In 2018-19, the event’s marketing and promotion expenses jumped 59 per cent to mark its 10th anniversary.

The commission said the tourism board needed a rejuvenation of members, pointing out that none of the 19 non-official members were aged between 18 and 35 as of August, two years after the government announced its intention to appoint young people to bodies and committees.

It also criticised the board for the late submission of declaration of interest forms by board members, and urged the body and the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau to improve the handling of unspent additional funding from the government.

In 2019-20, this category of expenses stood at HK$270.2 million, which will be returned to the administration.


Category: Hong Kong

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