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Not the Hong Kong Yacht Show 2020

by Guy Nowell 24 Nov 2020 22:53 PST 20-22 November 2020
Hong Kong Yacht Show 2020. Not easily asccessible. © Guy Nowell

We fully understand the trying times occasioned by Covid-19 and all the associated frustrations - social distancing, quarantine regulations, travel restrictions and so on – but to call what took place over last weekend at Kwun Tong typhoon shelter “the Hong Kong Yacht Show” is stretching things a bit.

Hong Kong has been without a boat or yacht show for a couple of years now, which is strange because it is the biggest centre of recreational boating in Asia, except Japan. There have been boat shows, on and off, for ages: the HK International Boat Show (aka Marina Cove Boat Show), the Gold Coast Marina & Country Club Boat Show, and a number of others of varying size and impact, but never the full scale ribbons-and-horns sort of event that might be logically expected in a place that has more than 10,000 pleasure vessels on the official register and plenty more besides. The question has always been, “who is going to organise and run such an event?”

The Hong Kong Boating Industry Association came into being two years ago, and would seem to be the obvious candidate by virtue of claiming to be representative of the boating industry all the way from the Ap Lei Chau waterfront chandlers up to the superyacht dealers. However, the nascent HKBIA has a few other things on its mind at present – making helpful and very practical suggestions to the HK Marine Dept being one of them – and has neither the expertise, the money, or the political leverage to initiate such an event.

Enter the Hong Kong Cruise and Yacht Industry Association, scion of the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association, and registered in Hong Kong as a charity. ‘Cruise’ (meaning floating entertainment palaces with thousands of passengers, dozens of dining rooms, casinos and karaoke) and ‘Yacht’ (meaning private pleasure vessels, usually max 12 ‘guests’ often outnumbered by the crew, right down to 30ft sailing boats) do not necessarily sit comfortably together. Two years ago the HKCYIA promised to galvanise the Hong Kong boating scene with a new ‘Cruise and Yacht’ boat show which turned out to be all sizzle and no steak – two exhibitors, and a wholly unsuitable location at China Merchants Wharf. Last year the offering was upgraded to be the Hong Kong International Cruise and Yacht Festival, with proposed conferences, events, and in-water displays in multiple locations all around Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.

In turn, the HKICYF boiled down to less than a dozen boats alongside pontoons in the Kwun Tong typhoon shelter, and precious few visitors. Subsequently, a number of dealers and brokers started having “mini boat shows, by invitation only”, meaning three or four boats of the same brand, a private dinner, and a chance to impress the invited guests without the distraction of a competing brand vessel parked in the next pontoon berth.

It was by now apparent to all industry observers and potential participants that prime requisites for a ‘proper’ boat show were experienced organisers and a decent location. Simple, eh?

Andy Treadwell (Verventia Pte Ltd) is the owner and organiser both the Singapore and Thailand Yacht Shows, and is generally recognised as knowing how to run a boat show. At the Singapore Yacht Show in April 2019 Verventia and the HKCYIA signed an MOU to run a Hong Kong Yacht Show in November 2020. The plan was that HKCYIA would provide the location and source all the relevant permissions, and Verventia would ‘bring in the punters’, both the exhibitors and the visitors. “In a sense, it’s a perfect partnership that we hope to develop steadily over the next few years”, said Treadwell at the time.

Then came Covid, and that changes everything. Deposits were paid by a number of the principal would-be exhibitors for the 2020 show, but when questions about the site, the bespoke pontoons being constructed, and the availability of on-land space were asked, HKCYIA were definitely not answering the phone. In October 2020 Verventia issued a statement, having consulted with the main exhibitors on the inaugural Show, saying that the 2020 event was postponed through to 2021, citing disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and travel and capacity restrictions as limiting factors to stage a yacht show as the reasons for doing so. This seemed an eminently reasonable decision, given the HKSAR Government edicts on social distancing and reduction of crowds and gatherings.

Nevertheless, HKCYIA issued a separate statement saying “it’s still on”, and pressed ahead holding what has since been described entirely accurately as the ‘Hong Kong Second-Hand Boat Show’, a sort on-water boat hop with some parties thrown in for good measure – and let’s not talk about the opening ceremony where substantially more than eight people ‘gathered’ on a pontoon, or the nightlife boat parties thrown for a select few. Fortunately the weather remained good, for three days and nights, otherwise there could have been a good deal of damage done amongst boats jammed cheek-by-jowl along a pontoon with just one forward anchor laid. One exhibitor reported that he remained on board throughout the event, “just in case. But most people just locked up and left. There was no land/pontoon access, so if something had gone wrong…”

This event was not a success. Notwithstanding the strictures imposed by C-19 precautions, a few brokerage boats accessible only by private ferry falls a long way short of the HKCYIA objective of “promoting and developing the yachting industry in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area… bringing prosperity and positive economic impact to local businesses and the supply chain throughout the China market, as well as positive international PR, inward investment, maritime education and protection of the oceans to support the Hong Kong yacht industry, together with the creation of employment.”

So what does Hong Kong need in a boat show, and who should be providing it? This is not hard:

• Organised by a professional, independent, and competent third party,

• Run with transparency,

• ‘Working with’ the HK Marine Department,

• And the HK Boating Industry Association,

• Taking a long-term view aimed at promoting and growing boating in a sustainable manner,

• That engages with the industry rather than exploiting it,

• And which showcases the marine environment and Hong Kong’s cruising grounds - that are equal to the best in the world

And that, Virginia, is what the disinterested Media would like to see. Any questions?

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