Hong Kong’s push for more arts, cultural and sporting events

The month of March, aka “Art March,” felt especially busy in Hong Kong.

❓What’s going on?

The month of March, aka “Art March,” felt especially busy in Hong Kong. From Art@Harbour to Art Basel, in fact, there were 13 art and culture-related events scheduled for Art March 2024 between February 20 and April 8. And that doesn’t include the many smaller-scale events held by companies and private groups that have also been hosted in celebration of this time of year. 

But if you think that’s going to be stopping anytime soon, you just wait.

The city announced in January that it had planned over 80 art, cultural and sports “mega events” for the first half of this year, including the Rugby Sevens this weekend. To add to that busy schedule, the second half of 2024 is also looking full, with the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s mega events calendar already packed through the end of June.

“The various cultural events organised by the government are good initiatives and will attract more tourists and visitors, contributing to the local economy. We see that there are numerous upcoming happenings and events scheduled for the next few months, which will be very beneficial for Hong Kong. With The Hari’s close proximity to the HKCEC and Wan Chai Harbourfront, where many of the art exhibitions and cultural events take place, we are very well positioned for our guests to take advantage thereof,” said Edward E. Snoeks, General Manager of The Hari Hotel in Hong Kong, in a comment to TMS.  

“We hope they can make city life fun-filled and make clear the position of Hong Kong as an international city and bring happiness to all walks of life,” said Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong. 

🤔Was it always like this?

Hong Kong has long been seen as a financial and international hub, a sort of bridge between the East and West. But, COVID restrictions and lockdowns made a big dent in that status. The effects of the pandemic, along with a talent exodus, geopolitical tensions and a slow economic recovery, have made boosting events and tourism in the city a big priority for getting things back on track. 

And now, Hong Kong is looking set for a major comeback. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Algernon Yau Ying-wah has said exhibition and convention events will recover this year – and the sector might even do better than before the pandemic. For example, at least 160 exhibitions and 150 convention meetings are already scheduled for the year at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and AsiaWorld-Expo​. So far, officials have said that events in the sector are back to around 80% of pre-pandemic levels.

🌏The bigger picture: The push for international cultural exchanges 

Last April, Hong Kong announced applications were being accepted for the Mega Arts and Cultural Events Fund, which supported events like Art Basel and Art Central in 2023, as well as this year’s Art Basel, Art Central, Chubby Hearts Hong Kong and other exhibitions. And earlier this year, officials announced the government would ramp up efforts by reaching out more proactively, increasing interdepartmental coordination and creating a dedicated team to help organize mega events. This also came as Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced a HK$1.095 billion (US$139.9 million) fund to support the Tourism Commission and Tourism Board in organizing events.

But this isn’t just about boosting Hong Kong’s economy. Naturally, encouraging more “mega events” in the city will do wonders for other areas, like the hotel, catering and retail sectors. But Hong Kong’s efforts to get back to its status as an international city and become the “events capital of Asia” align with bigger regional goals, from strategies in the mainland to greater integration of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA)

The GBA aims to become a global hub by leveraging the strengths of nine mainland cities and two SARs, Macau and Hong Kong. And Hong Kong, in particular, has an important role in this plan as a cultural gateway.

In 2021, the Chinese government approved the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035. Within this, the city was encouraged to leverage its unique position to become a global hub for arts and cultural exchanges between China and the rest of the world. 

Specifically, a fact sheet on the plan reads:

“As a melting pot of Chinese and Western cultures and with extensive international connections, Hong Kong has brought together local and foreign talents to promote cultural exchange between East and West,” pointing out the goal to “bring modern Art to Hong Kong and Chinese culture to the world, enabling Hong Kong to develop into a hub to showcase Chinese arts and culture and display the soft power of Chinese culture to the world.” 

This directive highlights the need for Hong Kong to rebrand and redefine its cultural identity in the global arena. By embracing its East-meets-West heritage and fostering a vibrant arts scene, the city is an important part of the long-term goals of the GBA.

Hong Kong art central
Source: Art Central 2024. Image courtesy of Art Central. Photo credit_ Eric Hong - 4140

💬What are officials saying?

“The fate of Hong Kong and the nation are linked together. I hope the Hong Kong government will be united and lead the vast majority of residents to meet the needs of the country and integrate into the overall development of the country and give full play to the unique advantages of the city.”

– The former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in 2022.

“Looking ahead, we will align our strategy to support the Hong Kong SAR Government’s policies and the 14th Five-Year Plan to reinvigorate the city’s economy and have prepared a full program of fairs, conferences, overseas promotions and support activities throughout the year, giving full play to Hong Kong's unique advantages of being backed by the motherland and connected to the world. We also aim to reinforce Hong Kong’s role as a global business hub and help international, mainland and local businesses connect and succeed.”

– HKTDC Chairman Dr Peter K N Lam, in 2023.

"More important, the integrated development of cities within the GBA strengthens the advantages of the region – which boasts a competitive international financial center, trade center, shipping center and strong innovation corridor.”

Liu Guohong, director of the Department of Finance and Modern Industries at China Development Institute in Shenzhen, in February.

💼How many tourists is this push estimated to bring in?

Pushing to make Hong Kong an international arts and cultural hub has been going on for a few years, but it’s gotten a lot stronger recently. In 2018, Hong Kong saw some of its peak foot traffic, with the city attracting 65 million tourists. 

Now, with the aggressive arts, culture and sports push, 2024 is forecasted to attract 46 to 50 million tourists, with every 1.5 million tourists expected to add HK$3 billion (US$383.5 million) to the region’s GDP. 

Specifically, between the floating eggs and the packed Art Basel, Art March was forecasted to bring in four million people domestically and abroad. In fact, Art Central’s return for the first time since 2019 saw over 41,000 local and international visitors looking at the works of over 500 established and emerging contemporary artists, according to a statement seen by TMS.

Hong Kong art central
Source: Art Central 2024. Image courtesy of Art Central. Photo credit_ Eric Hong - 2959

“With thanks to our Lead Partner, UOB, the Mega Arts & Cultural Events Fund of the HKSAR Government, and our many distinguished partners, this year we were able to expand our programming and present our most ambitious Fair yet. The tremendous turnout by local and international visitors underscores Art Central’s role as an essential platform for established and emerging contemporary artists,” said Corey Andrew Barr, Fair Director of Art Central.  

🎤What does the public think of this approach? 

“They’re definitely achieving this. The galleries come from all over the world and lots of different cities including Hong Kong.It’s definitely quite an international space.”

– Nellie Gaiger, a 19-year-old visitor at Art Basel.

“Art Central played a significant role in contributing to HK’s art month. Bringing galleries from all over the world and allowing emerging artists to showcase their talent.”

– Kalani Ko, a VIP relations intern at Art Central. 

“I feel like its [arts] always been there, [but] historically, you’ve had to find it yourself online. Or do a bit of research, and they tend to be still art. Which some people might find boring.” As for now, “I do think it’s more inclusive and more fun for the casual viewer. Like the egg thing in Tamar ….Because of that … it’s nice to go out more.”

– Lucine Hoe, a 19-year-old business student and art enthusiast from the University of Hong Kong.