by CHRISTOPHER BYRNE, The Toy Guy

Despite the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, it will be business as usual when the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair, Baby Fair, and International Licensing Show open on Jan. 6. Over the first weekend in December, there were largely peaceful protests. The South China Post reports that in the first weeks of December, the universities and schools where protests were most active (notably the Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute closest to the Tsim Sha Tsui area where many toy companies are located) are working to get back to regular schedules.

Hong Kong is getting back to business as well. Recent protests have been limited to weekends, and local businesses are reporting an uptick in business and a return of overseas customers after near-recession conditions were threatened earlier this year at the height of the protests.

For many U.S. companies and retailers, it remains a fluid situation. While some have canceled their January trips, others are still planning to go; for others, whether or not they will attend will ultimately be almost a last-minute decision.

While there is some cause for concern, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the agency that puts on the shows, says that it will be business as usual for the second-largest toy fair in the world, and it is adding features and services to make the show even more secure and easy for visitors than it has been in the past.

In discussing the upcoming fairs, HKTDC points to the success of its autumn fairs, most of which took place during the greatest periods of unrest in the city. HKTDC reported that more than 9,600 exhibitors and nearly 156,000 buyers from 165 countries and regions attended the seven fairs it organized in October and November.

The seven fairs were the HKTDC Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Autumn Edition), electronicAsia, jointly mounted with MMI Asia Pte Ltd, the HKTDC Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Autumn Edition), the HKTDC Hong Kong International Optical Fair and the HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair, all held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), and the HKTDC Hong Kong International Outdoor and Tech Light Expo, and Eco Expo Asia, jointly organized with Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd, held at AsiaWorld-Expo.

The seven HKTDC autumn fairs welcomed more than 7,300 exhibitors and attracted nearly 95,000 buyers from Mainland China and overseas, shoring up the city’s tourism, catering, and service sectors during an uncertain time. Most importantly, there were no reports of any problems with overseas businesspeople.

Enhancements to January Shows Stress Security and Service

In announcing newly initiated enhancements for the January events, HKTDC reaffirmed that the safety of buyers and exhibitors is a top priority. The organization has been coordinating with all relevant organizations to ensure that security measures are in place and be prepared to respond to different situations. Next year’s shows will also feature new service counters at the Hong Kong airport to provide attendees with the latest transportation information, free shuttle buses to provide transfer from the show venue to airports and hotels, greatly enhanced notifications and updates via official fair web sites, mobile apps and social media channels, and enhanced fairground security.

HKTDC has also stepped up efforts to bring buying missions from new and emerging markets and programs to reduce travel costs for buyers. HKTDC has always had a robust program for providing business matching, and they will be expanded for next year’s shows with dedicated concierge desks, more onsite connection options, and a significantly enhanced online sourcing program.

Should You Go?

The U.S. Consulate of Hong Kong and Macau has set the risk at a level two, which they say means “exercise increased caution.” The consulate’s site regularly posts advisories about protests and other events of which travelers should be aware. The consulate also suggests that travelers who will be there over weekends particularly check for the locations of protests, but they are quick to add that, for the most part, exercising the regular precautions for travel to the region will be sufficient.

The decision of whether or not to attend the shows will be an individual one, of course. No one wants to minimize the serious situation unfolding in Hong Kong right now. Nor is this the first time that events have raised questions about whether or not it was advisable to travel to Hong Kong. The SARS outbreak in 2003 raised questions about travel to Hong Kong, and earlier the H5N1 flu outbreak in 1997 was equally concerning. In both cases, the government and the HKTDC effectively stepped in to protect travelers and fair attendees. For next year, as noted above, HKTDC says that safety and security are of paramount importance. Moreover, given the success of the recent shows and the enhanced services planned for this year, the indicators are that the fairs are likely to be uneventful, at least politically.

The main event will continue to be the outstanding, toys, baby products, and properties on display. The organizers are anticipating that there will be more than 2,700 exhibitors attracting more than 85,000 buyers from around the world.  HKTDC continues its efforts to serve these international industries with excellent services, a strong educational program, and support designed to make a visit as productive as possible and reinforce Hong Kong’s role as one of the premier destinations for outstanding business opportunities and as a major player in the global toy industry.