Exhibitors at the popular HKTDC Food Expo this year have expressed concern over the anti-government protests gripping the city, citing souring consumer appetite and impact on operations.
Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the annual five-day food fair, alongside four other lifestyle events, will kick off on Thursday, featuring more than 2,100 vendors from over 20 countries and cities.
While the airport has become the latest focus for protesters, the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, the expo venue, will be along the route of a Sunday march planned on Hong Kong Island.
Council deputy executive director Benjamin Chau said he was concerned about whether foreign exhibitors – who form about half of all vendors at the event – flying into the city would be affected by the airport protest, where violence erupted on Tuesday night and hundreds of flights were cancelled from the start of the week.
Demonstrations at the transport hub have since waned, with a court injunction obtained by the operator to limit protests to just two designated areas at the arrival hall.
Chau said: “Exhibitors really hope to do business in Hong Kong. But when people can’t fly in, then how can they achieve this?”
He said the number of vendors so far who cancelled their bookings had been low – in the single digits. Some cited the political crisis rocking the city.
Chan added he could still not give an expected turnout for the expo, which drew 510,000 visitors last year.
Since last Friday, protesters have flooded the airport, but sit-ins over the weekend were mostly peaceful, until Monday when demonstrators, angered by an escalation of police use of force, called for more people to descend on the hub, their numbers eventually spilling into the departure hall.
Tensions at the airport boiled over on Tuesday night as protesters detained and assaulted two mainland men, after suspecting them to be undercover agents from across the border. Riot police waded into the chaos, resulting in clashes between both sides and the force using pepper spray on protesters.
On Wednesday Beijing condemned the acts of protesters, comparing them to terrorists and saying the incident had affected Hong Kong’s reputation.
The airport disruptions in recent days also meant some exhibitors faced delays importing food stocks, with many expecting poorer business at the coming expo.
Choi Pui-shuk, fresh produce department manager at Aji-No-Chinmi Company (Hong Kong) said the store initially expected some vegetables from Japan to arrive on Monday by air, but they only made it on Tuesday.
She noted the delay affected some perishable products, incurring a small loss.
With a protest march by the Civil Human Rights Front – which organised two massive marches in the past two months – looming on Sunday, Choi said she predicted that her overall revenue at the expo would drop by up to 80 per cent compared with last year.
“I am not worried about protesters storming in. I am more worried about no one coming in to shop,” she said, adding that she was concerned business at the event this year could be the worst in 20 years of attendance.
Richard Poon Kuen-fai, managing director at On Kee Dry Seafood Company, shared similar sentiments. To boost sales, he is planning to offer extra discounts to consumers even though costs have surged.
“We have given up on net profit. I only strive to stop revenue from dropping,” he said.
The protests were sparked by the now-shelved extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which the city has no such agreement, including mainland China, where critics say fair trials are not guaranteed.