After recording no new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, April 20, and 4 new cases yesterday, April 21, the Hong Kong government decided to extend restrictions in city for another two weeks, keeping bars, pubs and other businesses closed until May 7. The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said that “this is not the time to be complacent. If we relax, the good work that we have done will be in vain”.

Hong Kong is historically an important hub for fashion retailers. While the city may represent great digit sales for a brand’s global business, it is also where many APAC managers are based in.

The entertainment businesses, those that bring together thousands of people, such as the events organized by Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), are facing a challenging situation never seen before by the sector. To better understand how the pandemic is affecting the field and what are their main strategies for the future, we interviewed the Italian Director of HKTDC, Gianluca Mirante.

Gianluca Mirante

The coronavirus epidemic brought more than a sanitary crisis. With the government’s determination on social distance, stores are closed, and people are at home with very different consumer priorities compared to three months ago. How has the current situation impacted your sector and what are the biggest challenges you are facing?

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) promotes, assists and develops Hong Kong’s trade. With 50 offices globally, including 13 in Mainland China, we promote Hong Kong as a two-way global investment and business hub. We achieve this through a wide range of services, including organising international exhibitions for various sectors. For example, we organise HKTDC Hong Kong Fashion Week and CENTRESTAGE for the fashion industry, as well as a variety of fairs for design-focused products from gifts and houseware to electronics and lighting. The Covid-19 outbreak brought the necessity to reschedule trade fairs and events round the world, and Hong Kong is no exception.

The safety of exhibitors and buyers has always been a priority for the HKTDC. Considering the current development of the COVID-19 outbreak, and in line with the health measures taken by the Hong Kong SAR Government, a decision has been made in consultation with industry representatives to reschedule nine HKTDC trade fairs originally scheduled for April and May. These nine fairs will collectively be known as the Summer Sourcing Week, which will provide a one-stop cross-industry platform for global buyers to replenish their stocks and suppliers to capture orders. The biggest challenge for us is to ensure the safety of fair participants while continuing to offer an effective channel for suppliers and buyers to do business.

Crises can represent a turning point for companies that manage to transform a difficult moment into a market opportunity. What practical actions are you taking to overcome this moment?

We continue to find opportunities for local and international companies before our fairs are held again. Apart from strengthening existing services, we are launching further initiatives, especially digital services.
For example, we are offering the Spring Virtual Expo @ hktdc.com Sourcing (www.hktdc.com/virtualexpo) during April, providing a one-stop virtual sourcing channel for buyers and exhibitors from around the world to do business during the peak sourcing season. It will focus on four themes: technology (lighting and electronics), gifts and houseware, lifestyle and fashion and beauty.

Additionally, the HKTDC is looking into online-to-offline business matching services at its fairs so that overseas buyers who cannot come to Hong Kong can locate target exhibitors in advance. Video conferences will be arranged between buyers and exhibitors to discuss business deals. When our physical fairs are held again, we will implement a number of measures to step up virus prevention, including: health protection tips to event participants, masks and hand sanitiser on request at the information counter, fair management office and registration counter at the fairground, setting up sanitiser dispensers at the fairground, regular cleaning of lift panels, escalator handrails, door handles, tables and chairs with diluted bleach, stepping up cleaning and disinfecting work at venue restrooms.

Sustainability, global warming and climate change are not new topics, but especially after the coronavirus, the discussion on eco-consciousness has reached another level. How do you see the changes of the future for your business and the possible new post-crisis opportunities?

Our Eco Expo Asia is dedicated to environmental technologies. Going forward, our fairs will continue to feature products that respond to the latest market trends and needs. HKTDC events have been hosting the Redress Design Award (formerly EcoChic Design Award), the world’s largest sustainable-fashion competition, ever since its launch in 2011. For example, the contest has been held as a core event at CENTRESTAGE since 2017, and is expected to take place at the fair again this year. The competition was established by environmental charity Redress in 2011 under the name of “EcoChic Design Award”, which was subsequently changed to “Redress Design Award”. It advocates sustainability and waste reduction in fashion, and promotes wearable and marketable sustainable fashion.