Border holds key for conventions, SMEs

Local | Carine Chow 23 Sep 2021

Authorities should provide a timetable for border reopenings so the exhibition industry can plan for the resumption of conventions, which is the sector's major source of income, a businessman said.

Up to 160 international conventions were held in Hong Kong each year before the Covid-19 outbreak occurred early last year, including a dozen being the biggest trading fairs in Asia, exhibitor Cheung Shui-kwai said.

Businesses in Hong Kong benefited from frequent exhibitions that appealed to visitors from around the world, generating HK$58 billion every year.

But there have been only around 50 exhibitions in the city targeting mainly local customers since Covid-19 emerged.

"Around 45 percent of industry players may not be able to survive if the current travel restrictions remain till the end of 2021," he added, citing a survey done by the Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association in June.

Cheung also said many organizers of international events are considering shifting their business to places with less restrictive anti-epidemic measures such as Singapore and Thailand.

While the government has earmarked HK$1.02 billion for the Convention and Exhibition Industry Subsidy Scheme, he said, the measure could hardly help them as many international exhibitions were canceled amid the pandemic.

He suggested the government extend the scheme for another six months to the end of next year and hoped that authorities can give a timetable for the border reopening as it takes at least seven to eight months to plan a convention.

Cheung's call came a day after authorities announced that under the SME financing guarantee scheme, 80 and 90 percent and the special 100 percent loan guarantees will be extended for another six months.

This means that companies applying for these three loan products will only be required to repay interest, not principal, for up to 24 months.

Danny Lau Tat-pong, honorary chairman of the Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association, said the six-month extension was a "lifesaver."

However, Lau said, companies are relying on border reopenings to get businesses back on track and to repay their principal.

He added that businesses in the tourism sector were still struggling.

So far, the scheme has granted a total of HK$170 billion in loans to 67,000 applicants.

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