7 lessons from Sevens rugby success as Hong Kong reopens for events

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From reviewing Covid-19 rules to the needs of the events industry, Hong Kong has a chance to reposition itself as an events capital – with the catalyst of the success of the Hong Kong Sevens.

The final siren has sounded. The beer jugs have been collected. And the stadium has returned to the eerie silence that has, sadly, epitomised the venue for the last few years.

The Hong Kong Sevens ended on a high note and injected a much-needed spirit of hope and optimism back into the community – probably the only event that could have done that, restrictions and all.

But what next? As we look forward to a solid events calendar over the next few months, here are seven lessons from the Sevens for the government and events sector to ponder, as we move towards a full reopening and re-engagement with the world.

First, scrap most Covid-19 restrictions, including the onerous and costly requirement of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for competitors and those working in the entertainment and hospitality industries. Covid-19 is endemic – rapid antigen tests will suffice if testing is still required.

Certain restrictions were justified early on when the disease was new, vaccine rates were low and treatment protocols were being tweaked. We’ve come a long way since. Bite the bullet – quickly and comprehensively review the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation, and drop all but the most necessary rules and precautions.

Second, energise the events sector and liberate the community by dropping the mask mandate for all outdoor activities. The world won’t fall apart if we have a burger, beer and a laugh, stroll along the streets or, most importantly, give children the freedom to run around the playground without a mask on. We need to start normalising not wearing masks.

Third, vigorously engage the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector to hear their concerns, friction points and pet peeves about staging events in Hong Kong. Use the emergence from Covid-19 as an opportunity to creatively and courageously review how events are handled, with an emphasis on engagement, facilitation and cooperation, rather than process, form-filling and compliance. Carpe diem!

Fourth, urgently examine the manpower needs of the MICE sector. More than 200,000 jobs have been lost in the tourism, conventions and exhibitions space over the past few years. Acute manpower shortages will dog the sector for some time, and while there is still uncertainty about the pace and scope of the return to normal.

There is massive new venue capacity coming on stream over the next three to five years. We need a plan to win back and develop the talent needed to cope with a “new normal” that includes the Kai Tak Sports Park, West Kowloon Cultural District, AsiaWorld-Expo, 11 Skies and East Kowloon Cultural Centre.

Fifth, nurture new, novel and local events by the private and non-profit sectors. The Hong Kong Sevens had its humble beginnings at the Football Club in 1976 but has since become the gold standard for rugby sevens tournaments globally, and its importance to the World Sevens series is indisputable.

Art Basel Hong Kong, arguably the biggest and best art event in Asia, started out as Art HK. With our prime location in the heart of Asia, infrastructure, transport links, efficient services and wide use of English, the sky is the limit to developing new and engaging events.

Sixth, develop a comprehensive strategy for the holistic and sustainable development of Hong Kong’s events sector. Airline capacity constraints, Covid-19 rules, competing destinations (that are more open than Hong Kong), workforce supply limits and a strong currency will hamper the rebound in international arrivals for some time.

A return of the millions of mainland visitors is highly unlikely any time soon. Use this time to understand how we want to position Hong Kong as an events capital, set some ambitious goals and then make them come true.

Finally, and most importantly, celebrate the success of Sevens and all who made it happen. The Hong Kong Rugby Union and its team deserve our heartfelt thanks and appreciation. Hopefully, this is the much-needed catalyst to remove as many bottlenecks as possible to enable Hong Kong’s reopening and the energetic resumption of events large and small. A massive amount of time, energy, sweat, tears and money goes into staging such an event – bravo to all who made it happen.
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