LOST IN HONG KONG
business | culture | travel
For many Australian entrepreneurs looking to do business in China, the most logical place to start is Hong Kong. We ask two Australian Sinophiles what they know about business, culture and travel in this leading financial centre and gateway to the Middle Kingdom. By Paul Budde & Jennifer Berry.
Hong Kong – gateway to an emerging titan
TELECOMMUNICATIONS ANALYST PAUL BUDDE PHONES HOME WITH SOME CULTURAL OBSERVATIONS OF HONG KONG’S SHIFTING ROLE ON CHINA’S RISING STAR.
In late September I travelled to China to experience, first-hand, some of the exciting new developments in the world’s most populous country. Things have certainly changed since my last visit 15 years ago.
Hong Kong, as China’s most outward-looking city, is a revealing window on the country’s march toward integration with the global economy. It was an appropriate destination to begin my trip. I am sure that most people outside China have little comprehension of the mind-boggling pace of change, not only economically, but also socially. The Chinese people today are far friendlier, more open and socially engaged. China is rapidly changing from a global market to a global power and this will have far-reaching consequences for global competition. The question is whether the rest of the world is ready.
Hong Kong is losing the economic leverage it has held over the last decade or so. China doesn’t need Hong Kong any longer to move forward into the global economy.
Many companies in Hong Kong have positioned themselves as gateways for western companies into China, but, while this is still very much the case, change is in the air and premiums are no longer paid for gateway services such as these. I have been told that, in some cases, the Chinese are deliberately shunning companies in Hong Kong, thus undermining the economic position of this territory.
But Hong Kong is not giving up easily and the talents built up over decades will most certainly secure its long-term prime position in the booming Chinese economy. Hong Kong believes that it will be able to maintain its position as the Chinese face in the international market. However, this time round, it will be on much more of an equal footing with its mainland rivals — Shanghai in particular.
In 1960, Hong Kong had three telephones per 100 people (teledensity of 3). At that point, South Korea was in a similar situation. Now both societies are among the richest in Asia — both have teledensities of well over 60. And, after Korea, Hong Kong leads the world in broadband.
We’ve all seen the iron pit covers that can be found in virtually every street in every city in the world. You know the ones, inscribed with the name of the local telephone company indicating where the telephone cables are in the ground. Hong Kong was the first place where I saw these lids with the word ‘broadband’ also written on them.
The Chinese people I talked with all spoke highly of Hu Jintao and foreshadowed important positive changes under his regime. In Hong Kong, people were more cautious, as they are expecting a tightening rather than a loosening of Beijing’s grip on their territory.
CHINA WANTS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
A former British colony, Hong Kong has been largely insulated from many of China’s problems in the past, which often arose due to a lack of communication. The disparaging attitude displayed by the West is slowly changing to make room for proper dialogues, and China is coming to understand that it can’t just sit on the sidelines and complain that it is not being taken seriously. The Chinese people realise that they will have to work equally hard in this communication process.
China’s open-communist society is in striking contrast to those that existed in Eastern Europe under communism. Chinese people are critical of their own government and complain as much as we do in the democratic countries. On the other hand, an interesting cartoon in one of the (English language) newspapers in Hong Kong showed a picture of the democratic elections in Indonesia with embarrassed Chinese people looking on!
THE RE-EMERGING SUPERPOWER
At the time of my visit, China’s economy was growing at around 9.7 percent for the year, despite government attempts to cool it down. Most economists agree that between 7–10 percent per annum seems to be around the natural growth percentage for the foreseeable future.
If China’s growth rate continues, it will overtake the USA as dominant economic power before the middle of the 21st Century. This century will be the Chinese century.
With one-fifth of the world’s population, three times the size of Western Europe and almost five times that of the USA, the economies of scale for manufacturing companies in China are greater than anything the world has ever seen, and pose a challenge to competing manufacturers in all developed economies.
The textile and toys markets around the global are already finding this out, big time. Telecoms and IT will follow suit.
China is no longer a huge market for a range of new products. It will start competing, not just with overseas companies operating in China, but also in the home markets of these companies.
By 2006, the Chinese telecoms market will be worth $US77 billion, comprising 20 percent of the Asian telecoms market
Inevitably, there are pains associated with such a growth spurt. Electricity shortages are widespread and unemployment in some cities could be as high as 20 percent. But, there is no looking back for this awakening giant. To glimpse the veiled face of this century’s economic superpower in waiting, you need look no further than Hong Kong.
Paul Budde is a leading Australian telecommunications authority and runs PAUL BUDDE Communication Pty Ltd, a telecommunications advisory firm with expertise in Australasia.
business tourism: china’s golden child
Fancy a taste of the good life? Hong Kong is the manifestation of unabashed materialism. One glance at this atypical Chinese skyline and it is easy to understand why, in hotels and meeting rooms, the sky is the limit.
By Jennifer Berry
Lion dancers and dragons, rising and twisting to the sound of crashing cymbals and gongs. High-tech conferencing, mobile phones and iPods. Jutting neon, holistic spas, new-age nightclubs and Tai’ Chi. This edgy metropolis offers the executive a roiling fusion of East meets West.
Welcome to Hong Kong, “City of Life”. Conspicuous and brash, where luxury knows no bounds. Whether mingling at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, arriving by helicopter for lunch at Felix, being chauffeured in a limousine on a shopping trek or dining at the exclusive China Club, Hong Kong’s bill-of-fare for executives is endless.
The former British colony also boasts dazzling lights, piercing skyscrapers, a dynamic harbour and rich Chinese ethnicity.
Peruse the city’s streetscape and you will see bamboo scaffolding beside towering office blocks. Centuries-old temples nestle amid high-density grottos. Taoist art resides beneath blazing billboards advertising Apple or Sony. Nowhere else will you find a mélange of floating restaurants and wet markets crammed with the corporate crowds.
Traditional Chinese customs still permeate Hong Kong life. So how do you fuse yang and yin into your Hong Kong stay?
Work hard, play hard and hit Hong Kong’s streets. The Cultural Kaleidoscope program, launched by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, provides a number of options to enjoy China’s golden child.
Travel back in time to colonial Hong Kong with the “Hong Kong Story” Exhibition Guided Tour at the Museum of History. Learn the secrets of Jade and Pearl shopping. Unlock the mystery of Feng Shui. Practice Tai Chi or watch the martial arts and ceremonial dances in Kowloon Park. You can also catch a performance of Chinese opera or embark on an architectural tour.
Fêted for an obsession with designer labels, Hong Kong offers scores of diverse shopping experiences. Yet the endurance of even the hardiest shopper can be tested by the trek from the Landmark to Pacific Place. Some hotels have come to the rescue, partnering with retailers to offer limousine pick up, a personalised shopper and in-store discounts.
In the wake of SARS, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has made all the right moves.
Over the past year, business tourism to Hong Kong has experienced a Herculean turnaround, recording 16 percent growth on 2002. The high-end market boom shows no sign of abating and hotels have been quick to provide deluxe accommodation with incentives and exhibition space. Today’s luxury is fast becoming tomorrow’s necessity.
“Hong Kong hotels are acutely aware of international competition. So they’re looking at a way to deliver that unique point of difference,” says Andrew Clark, Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Regional Director, Australia + New Zealand.
That could be something as simple as watching a fireball sunset over Victoria Peak. Escaping the rat race by indulging in hedonistic spa therapy. Even sailing around Victoria Harbour aboard the Duk Ling — Hong Kong’s last seafaring junk boat.
The success of Hong Kong’s business tourism market from Australia rests upon the integrated service between airlines, hotels and ground operators. By shrewdly directing their focus on enhancing conferencing facilities, accommodation and awareness programs, the Australian corporate market is set to generate a whopping $1.4 billion in business tourism in 2004. The corporate traveller from Australia is big business.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board, however, is not resting on its laurels. Eager to pursue the burgeoning Chinese market and other opportunities, the organisation has launched publicity blitz to market Hong Kong as Asia’s business event hub.
“We have become more aggressive attracting conventions, incentive groups as well as exhibitions over the past twelve months,” says Clark, who cites Hong Kong’s sophisticated infrastructure as a good reason to escape the Beijing blues.
“Unlike the newly established Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing markets, our network of exhibition space, hotels and business sectors successfully addresses the many challenges executives face when doing business in China.”
This includes a framework of cultural programs, sightseeing attractions and a sleek transportation system.
So how do corporate visitors find the right balance when they step out of the board room and onto the street?
The trick, says HKTB’s Andrew Clark, is making the most of Hong Kong’s iconic location.
Hong Kong’s high density makes it easy to discover by rail, ferry or on foot. Take the MTR (Mass Transportation Rail) to the Night Market. Stroll the neon bathed “Golden Mile” along Nathan Road’s in search of a Rolex watch. Ride the tram to Victoria Peak for lunch. Pace the wooden planks on the Star Ferry across to Central and purchase a Mandarin smoking jacket from Shanghai Tang.
Hong Kong is called “City of Life” for good reason. Beyond the boardroom lies a world of excitement and possibilities. Popular local mythology contends that nine dragons slumber beneath the city, but it’s hard to believe that anything could nap beneath this buzzing metropolis.
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