Just downhill from Hong Kong’s achingly cool PoHo district in Sheung Wan – away from the craft beer bars, pop-up fashion stores, and a (rather intimidating) glass-walled yoga studio – an unassuming square, Pak Tsz Lane Park, marks one of the most important places in modern China’s history. It is the original site of the Furen Literary Society – who spread ideas of revolution against the Qing dynasty and established a republic in China.
Hemmed in by alleyways caked in graffiti and grimy high-rise buildings, with a discreet brown monument at its centre, its surrounds are surprisingly gritty. However, my guide Danny Fung, points out they were chosen for a reason: “If the revolutionaries needed to evacuate the area at short notice, they could disappear down one of these alleyways.”
Danny takes me on a fascinating and well-curated three-hour walking tour of the Hong Kong Intrepid’s Urban Adventures series (urbanadventures.com) – ideal for time-pressed business travellers who only have a spare afternoon to get to know a city once their meetings are finished.
We’re led from leafy Possession Street, where the British claimed Hong Kong as a colony in 1841, all the way to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where Hong Kong was officially handed back to China in 1997, and the red starry flag was raised in ceremony.
The transition from the incense-filled Taoist temples and Chinese medicine shops of Sheung Wan, to the glinting gargantuan buildings lining Victoria Harbour is extremely striking, and it’s amazing what a difference 114 years makes.
In July, Hong Kong will celebrate 20 years of independence from British rule.
The Hongkongers I spoke to were unsure how the occasion will be marked, although some mentioned that the government was allocating bigger budgets for annual cultural festivals. (For example, the budget for the internationally acclaimed Hong Kong Arts Festival has been boosted by 9% this year.)
During my visit in November, a different kind of independence was on some citizens’ minds. Beijing’s increasing influence over Hong Kong has been a bone of contention ever since President Xi and the Communist Party of China came to power in 2012. However, while I was in the city, the news broke that Beijing had banned two legally elected pro-independence Hong Kong lawmakers from entering office, for insulting China during their oaths they took while being sworn in.
Feelings of frustration and contempt for mainland China were strong – 40,000 protestors took to the streets demanding independence for Hong Kong. (Some people also expressed anger towards the two lawmakers, believing they threw away a chance to secure Hong Kong’s future for the sake of making a statement.) What’s more, the Chinese government is also launching legal challenges against even more pro-independence politicians, adding fuel to the fire.
Part of Hong Kong’s appeal for the international business community has always been that it offers the best of both worlds. Having semi-autonomy from the red tape and legal system of Communist-run mainland China, while also being a gateway to its booming economy, has made it a solid investment prospect for some time. Its stability has also been a key confidence booster for entrepreneurs. It will be interesting to see how the current political tensions play out, particularly if separatist sentiment gains momentum, as it did here in the UK.
Major plans are underway for a super high-speed rail service that will connect Hong Kong with mainland China. Costing $11 billion, the project involves building a train station on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, with 26 km of track connecting it to Shenzhen, and is due for completion in late 2018. While the development won’t sit well with Hongkongers that reject further integration with China, it’s likely to be welcomed by business travellers.
On a more local level for Platinum Business readers, Cathay Pacific recently re-introduced its direct flights from Gatwick to Hong Kong for the first time in 23 years. It’s the first route that the airline has operated with its new A350-900 aircraft, which is designed to offer a wider, quieter cabin with a new in-flight entertainment system.
“We are delighted to return to Gatwick Airport with a non-stop service between Gatwick and Hong Kong,” says Paul Cruttenden, marketing and digital sales manager for Cathay Pacific.
“The route will offer more choice, convenience and connectivity to both business and leisure travellers when travelling to North and Southeast Asia, China and the South West Pacific.
“The new Gatwick route complements our existing five-times-daily service from Heathrow, bringing six daily flights to the London and the Southeast. Those living in the area will benefit from the popular time slots at Gatwick, and this will mean they can still easily connect to other destinations on the network.”
In terms of investment activity, Hong Kong has been ranked as the world’s freest economy for 21 consecutive years by the Heritage Foundation, and placed second globally (after mainland China) for inflow of foreign direct investment in 2014, which totalled US$ 103 billion. Its taxation is low and simple, its infrastructure is world-leading, and its workforce is skilled and English literate, with a strong international outlook.
A slew of companies that have recently set up headquarters in Hong Kong include travel tech company Kayak, travel app Trip Guru and German music tech company Soundbrenner.
This year, it was reported that internationally, 1,926 start-ups are operating in the city, a large number of which were engaged in the Fintech sector – including financial software, cybersecurity, foreign exchange and anti-fraud services – which is unsurprising given Hong Kong’s roots as a banking powerhouse.
A final attraction of Hong Kong – just in case you’re tempted – is its enviable lifestyle. It offers the cosmopolitanism, culinary diversity and colourful heritage of London, while its chaos is far more organised, its metro system much more modern, and its days are sunnier, with plenty of attractive public spaces to enjoy them. At the weekends, residents take ferries to the Outlying Islands to enjoy hiking, beaches and festivals, or kick back with a Beaujolais Nouveau in one of the city’s hidden hipster enclaves. There’s always something new to see, do and taste in the aptly nicknamed “City of Life”.
Creative Quarter: PMQ
Housed in a converted former Police Married Quarters in PoHo (hence the name PMQ), this regeneration project really captured my imagination. Home to more than 100 entrepreneurs and designers, PMQ is a hub for creativity; a non-profit organisation that aims to nurture Hong Kong’s young talent. It has welcomed more than three million visitors since it opened in 2014, who are free to browse the open studios and boutiques of the entrepreneurs, making purchases and interacting with the people behind the products. The potential for collaboration and business partnerships with visitors is huge. I visited in the evening and perused the long corridors of the five-floor building. I found avant-guard jewellery, ground-breaking gadgets, artisan crafts and tantalising food concepts. PMQ also stages regular events, workshops and exhibitions, and was the host venue for the inaugural Hong Kong Fintech week last November.
Top Four Event Spaces
Hong Kong Convention And Exhibition Centre
Protruding out to sea in the Central Business District, this cutting-edge 91,500 sqm venue hosts hundreds of conferences and events each year.
Set on the edge of Kowloon in a landmark colonial building, this special hotel has individually designed suites, and offers a ‘heritage meeting experience’ with themed coffee breaks.
Upper House Hotel
With just 17 rooms, this original luxury property – with design inspired by nature – has a secluded open air terrace in the heart of the Central district, which has space for 100 guests.
Set sail on the South China Sea on board a beautiful teak ship for the best way to experience Victoria Harbour. A range of catering options and extra activities are available.
Where to Eat
Cafe Gray Deluxe, Upper House Hotel
Featuring warm decor and glittering views of Victoria Harbour, the exquisite menu of this refi ned eatery presents original fusions of flavour, and is headed up by Gray Kunz.
Aberdeen Street Social
Part of the PMQ complex, Jason Atherton’s modern brasserie-style eatery has a verdant garden terrace and an award-winning pastry chef.
Stables Grill, Hullett House Hotel
Perfect for entertaining a client, this sophisticated grill restaurant offers privacy and atmosphere within its restored wooden walls. Each dish is served with its signature black garlic imported from Switzerland.
Recently awarded a Michelin Bub Gourmand award, this understated Vietnamese restaurant in the lesser-known Star Street district allows you to customise your pho to the max – from the amount of coriander to the type of beef oil – with delicious results.
Cathay Pacific now offers a choice of three routes between the UK to Hong Kong, and onwards to over 190 destinations globally. These include five flights daily from London Heathrow, and four flights per week from both Manchester Airport and Gatwick Airport. The new Gatwick route exclusively features the new A350.
For further information, visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk or call 0208 834 8888.