Arrival Notice: In a tactical change, Hong Kong is rolling out new local attractions. Will more tourists roll up?

Hong Kong’s ability to attract tourists and stage major events featuring international stars has dominated the headlines over recent months. Just when visitor numbers began to rebound following the devastating Covid years, the Lionel Messi saga put Hong Kong in an unwelcome global spotlight and undoubtedly left many unanswered questions. Negativity about visitors reducing their spending while on our shores has also threatened to derail efforts to lure more.

It wasn’t always difficult, of course. Hong Kong has been a beacon for tourists through the ages. The stunning harbour set against the backdrop of a forest of skyscrapers and majestic hills has long captivated the imagination, and there are positive signs pointing to a return to the days of abundant incomers.

Cruise high

In an indication of rising arrival rates, cruise ship visits are now buoyant. Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) shares that from November 2023 to April 2024, the number of international ship calls exceeded pre-pandemic levels. No doubt many of those luxury-cruise travellers would have been mesmerised by the engrossing view of the fragrant harbour as their ship slowly moored at Ocean Terminal or the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.

Tourism is big business. Government economists have calculated that each batch of 1.5 million tourists contributes HK$3 billion to Hong Kong’s gross domestic product.

In the recent Budget, HK$1.09 billion was allocated to help boost tourism, which will enable the HKTB to increase efforts in four strategic directions: developing diversified tourism experiences; staging and supporting large-scale international events; developing diverse visitor source markets and stepping up promotions; and enhancing service quality and providing continuous support for the travel trade. A new dedicated team at the HKTB, the Mega Event Development and Advancement division, has been tasked with helping global event organisers navigate their way into the city more easily.

Shift in emphasis

HKTB spokesperson opines that Hong Kong’s tourism offerings do not necessarily need to be improved, but there should be a shift to cater to changing consumer preferences.

Government estimates suggest tourism numbers in Hong Kong will recover to 50 million visitors this year – a figure encouragingly revised from an earlier HKTB forecast of about 46 million. While this is up from 2023, it still represents a significant shortfall from pre-pandemic levels; about 65 million tourists flocked to Hong Kong in 2018, with nearly four in five arriving from mainland China.

Today’s tourists from the north, though, do not seem to splurge on luxury items as before. “Changes in consumer behaviour and travel demands have undergone a paradigm shift from consumption to higher demand of immersive and in-depth experiences,” says a HKTB spokesperson. “[So] our tourism offerings are also gradually shifting the focus from tactical offers such as discount and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences to arts and culture, wellness and green tourism, together with digital experiences and quality, customisable services.

Reconnecting tourists

HKTB research suggests recent HKTB campaigns like ‘Hello Hong Kong’ and ‘Hong Kong Night Treats’ have been hugely successful in re-engaging with world travellers. The goal for the upcoming year is to convert tourists interested in visiting Hong Kong into actual arrivals, and secondly, to get them spending in town.

Just the first step in the diversified tourism experience will be a revamped version of the nightly light-and-sound show ‘A Symphony of Lights’. Monthly pyrotechnic and drone shows, another of HKTB’s new initiatives, have been in the firing line though, as an environmentally aware segment of public opinion suggests these should be switched to drone-only.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan has indicated the pyrotechnic shows would encompass different monthly themes in line with mega events. He also suggested publicity measures to promote Hong Kong would include producing reality TV shows and rewarding outstanding frontline staff in the hospitality sector.

Local flavour

The HKTB recently leveraged its year-round promotional platform, ‘Arts in Hong Kong’, to showcase international art and cultural events, including Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Central and ComplexCon Hong Kong, in a bid to create a wider buzz. Through its research after the pandemic, the tourism body has gleaned that visitors are particularly drawn by local culture. A cha chaan teng-style cafe, for example, was set up at Art Basel to add local flavour and enrich visitor experiences.

“That’s why we will continue to promote the local neighbourhoods to offer authentic experiences and launch a second phase of the Temple Street promotion,” says a HKTB spokesperson. “Our East-meets-West festival calendar is also unique in Asia, and we will devote tangible resources to amplify the ambience of these festivities through events, promotions and city-wide décors to appeal to visitors.

Events capital

Much debate of late has centred on Hong Kong’s capability to promote and stage world- class events and bring big stars to the city. That Singapore held an exclusive deal to hold the Taylor Swift concert with plenty of carrot involved in the form of government monetary assistance caused some consternation here. Whether taxpayer’s money would be best served by such inducements is the source of heated argument in Hong Kong. There has been much talk of the ‘Swiftonomics’ effect of her performances in Singapore.

The government did inject HK$16 million into last month’s LIV Golf tournament, which duly attracted global attention and some of the best golfing professionals. The fact that this widely- praised event proved such a success has gone some way to alleviating disappointment over the Messi no-show.

In terms of courting international mega acts, the 50,000-capacity stadium at Kai Tak Sports Park is expected to open next year. Hoteliers hope this facility will help entice stars to perform in the city and fans to stay overnight, especially if multi-night performances can be scheduled. The authorities also intend to release details of mega events in a timelier manner so commercial entities can best capitalise on business opportunities.

Quality count

What the city can be proud of is the breadth and quality of the events it holds. Underscoring Hong Kong’s intention to remain Asia’s event capital, the HKTB spokesperson reeled off a number of major events organised or partnered by the HKTB that will “contribute to soliciting high-yield and high-value visitors”. These include the Hong Kong Sevens, Hong Kong Tennis Open, Art Basel, Clockenflap, Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races, Hong Kong Cyclothon and Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival.

The five Art March installations running until 2 June are expected to attract more than two million visitors. Despite an estimated combined staging cost of about HK$50 million, they are free to the public, and the government has stressed the idea is to bring fun and happiness to the city.

One particularly innovative offering, teamlab: Continuous, features more than 200 luminous eggs sitting in Tamar Park and dotting Victoria Harbour. The hues and acoustic outputs of this mesmerising display of ovoids will transform upon interaction with visitors.

Art March spanned a diverse range of activities from exhibitions of art and culture to television and film festivals. These were part of 80 events scheduled for the first half of 2024, as Hong Kong slowly but surely woos back the gone but not forgotten tourists.

Festive Crackers: Festival fervour lights up streets and hearts each month somewhere in the world

Following last month’s joyous celebration of Chinese New Year, we pay homage to the start of a new cycle. There’s an abundance of festivals held around the world throughout the year that have deep cultural significance and bring people and communities closer. Here is a guide to the best and the brightest for globetrotters seeking to soak up local colour.

Colour of Water

March sees the Holi festival in India, a beloved tradition in the country’s north, where Hindus celebrate the arrival of Spring according to the lunar calendar by joyously throwing coloured water and powder dyes on anyone within range. No one or orifice is safe from the technicolour assault, which takes place on 25 March this year. Mathura, one of India’s holiest cities, attracts floods of pilgrims during this festival. Bonfires are held the night before to celebrate the demise of the demoness Holika.

Saint Patrick’s Day falls annually on 17 March – a day in honour of the foremost patron saint of Ireland. The best place to celebrate the biggest day in the country’s cultural calendar is in the capital, Dublin, which becomes awash with the colour green. It’s a festival of fun – the famous Irish craic – and copious quantities of Guinness.

The Songkran Water Festival in Thailand has gained a reputation as the largest water fight in the world. It is part of the wider Songkran celebration of the Thai New Year (13-15 April), which is rich in symbolism for the Buddhist and Hindu calendars.

Music & Movie Mania

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, held this year from 25 April to 5 May, brings 10 days of marvellous music from a multitude of genres – jazz, funk, gospel, blues, folk, bluegrass and others. The celebration marks the city’s roots as the birthplace of jazz. The latest celluloid splendours are aired every May at Festival de Cannes, known internationally as the Cannes Film Festival. Dating from the 1940s, the famous red- carpet event sees the best actors and filmmakers from around the world congregate on the French Riviera in an orgy of cinematic heaven. This year’s dates, 14-25 May, are a must for anyone fascinated by the global influence of movies.

June heralds two famous music festivals, Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Glastonbury in the UK. The former is marketed as the largest music festival in the US and is noted for its diverse range of musical styles; this year (weekends from 20 June to 6 July) features more than 1,000 performances by 800-plus acts spanning some of the industry’s hottest stars. The UK event (26-30 June) has moved to the mainstream and attracts mega stars as well as mega crowds to the muddy Somerset fields. Across the English Channel – or le Manche depending on your perspective – the huge biennial Paris Air Show takes place this month, too, with the next take-off on 16-22 June 2025.

Races in the Sun

The Basque Country goes bull crazy at the height of summer. In Pamplona, Spain, the world-famous Running of the Bulls (Festival de San Fermin) sees six bulls and steers released every morning from 7-14 July onto narrow, winding cobble-stoned streets thronged with brave (or mad) festival- goers – many donned in a traditional white shirt and red neckerchief – who attempt to dodge the stampede or run the entire five-minute course alongside them. The whole town is in a party mood for the week in honour of Saint Fermin, the co- patron saint of Navarre.

Over in Italy, the magnificent Palio di Siena horse race is staged twice in the summer, on 2 July and again on 16 August. The event has medieval origins and is preceded by a majestic pageant that attracts visitors from across the world.

Back in Spain, the world’s biggest tomato fight takes place in the Valencian town of Buñol, La Tomatina on the last Wednesday of August (28th this year). First held in 1945, following a quarrel that broke out near a handy market stall, it has grown into an annual entertainment. The medieval city centre fills with bands and parades, and participants are doused in water before the fun begins.

Autumn High Lights

The famous Oktoberfest is held in Munich every autumn. This more than 200-year-old tradition began as a celebration of the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Therese of Saxe- Hildburghausen in 1810. With people dressed in traditional lederhosen and drindl swaying to the music of the oompa bands, the city becomes one huge party with many raucous beer tents as well as a huge fair. This year’s epic beer-swilling lasts from 21 September to 6 October.

Diwali, or the ‘Festival of Lights’, falls on the first day of November in 2024, with festivities held on two days each side of the main holiday. Though celebrated by Hindus and other Indian religions across Asia, India knows how to put on a festival and the subcontinent is a good place to be during this nod to the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Stay on for the Pushkar Camel Fair in India, a must-see cultural event held in Rajasthan, which begins this year on 9 November.

Dancing the Year Away

In Konya, Turkey, the Mevlana Festival occurs in mid-December, with the famed Sufi whirling dervishes spinning their way to a closer connection with Allah. With roots from the 13th century, this quite dizzying performance dance is accompanied by drums, flutes and camera shutters.

New Year celebrations at the end of December and early January herald rejoicing the world over, none more so than Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland. The festival lasts about four days spanning New Year’s Eve and the beautiful Georgian city becomes a massive outdoor street party with concerts and fireworks.

Heading as far north as you can get in the UK, Shetland is home to Up Helly Aa, a series of fire
festivals that bid adieu to Yuletide; the largest, in the capital of Lerwick, blazes on the last Tuesday of January. Each festival ends with the burning of an imitation Viking galley that has been dragged through torch-lit streets in a magical ceremonial procession, followed by a night of partying.

Letting Rip Before Lent

The end of February sees the huge Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (28 February – 5 March), a signal for non-stop revelry with parties happening in every corner of town. Streets heave with partygoers dancing to the samba beat and drums pounding amid an array of amazing costumes of feathers, sequins and glitter and towering parade floats. Held every year before Lent, parties go on through the night in this celebration that has its roots in Catholicism and also salutes Brazilian culture. Samba schools train for many months in preparation for the four-day parade which winds its way through to the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí arena.

Mardi Gras is another famous Christian tradition, again celebrated before the Lenten sacrifices. The words mean ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French – a day of feasting before the fasting begins. Many countries celebrate Mardi Gras, rejoicing in a proliferation of exuberant costumes to celebrate the beauty of life. The Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa has gained a reputation for holding raunchy parties that mix Latin style and Brazilian sex appeal. The traditions behind the famous New Orleans Mardi Gras party, particularly known for its elaborate costumes, date back to the time of the French colonialists.

The Carnival of Venice with its distinctive masks was reinstated in 1979 after centuries of being banned. Celebrating the history and culture of Venice, it takes place over 10 days, ending on Shrove Tuesday (4 March in 2025).

Tang Primacy: Tiffany Tang, queen of Chinese TV dramas, is as strong-minded as her Blossoms Shanghai character

Blessed with exceptional talent and magnetic presence, Tiffany Tang has long captivated Chinese-speaking audiences on the small screen and in movie theatres. The Shanghai native has starred in some of the most popular mainland China television dramas in the past 15 years, including Chinese Paladin 3 (2009), Xuan-Yuan Sword: Scar of Sky (2012), Lady & Liar (2015) and The Princess Weiyoung (2016) and has stepped onto the stage for a singing career, too. She was once hailed as the ‘One Billion Queen’ since her TV series consistently attracted the highest viewing figures.

After a short hiatus following the birth of her daughter, 40-year-old Tang was back in the limelight playing Miss Wang in the highly anticipated drama Blossoms Shanghai, produced and directed by Hong Kong’s pride Wong Kar-wai. This adaptation of Jin Yucheng’s novel Blossoms premiered in December and tells the story of A Bao (played by Hu Ge), a Shanghainese man living large during the 1990s’ economic boom. While garnering favourable reviews for Tang’s evocative interpretation of a complex character, in true Wong Kar-wai style the series also divided the critics. Also, unsurprisingly given Wong’s meticulous work habits, the script was many years in the writing and filming spanned a further three years.

It was a bold move for the arthouse director fêted on the international film festival circuit – his first turn on TV and a decade since his last motion picture, The Grandmaster. But thanks to a stellar cast and Oscar-winning Hong Kong cinematographer Peter Pau behind the camera, Blossoms Shanghai proved that change is sometimes necessary.

Tang had declined to participate in any other film or television project after landing the part, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to the series. “Over the past three years, I feel as though I have actually become Miss Wang,” she said. “Miss Wang is very clear-thinking. No matter how tough the situation, she can always overcome it.”

Life of Drama

This clarity of purpose may also be applied to her own rise. Tang’s passion for acting surfaced during her school years, when she actively participated in various drama clubs and productions. Recognising her potential, her parents supported her dreams, and she enrolled in the prestigious Central Academy of Drama in Beijing to pursue a formal acting education.

Her breakthrough came when she won the role of Zi Xuan in Chinese Paladin, the popular series starring, coincidentally, Hu Ge. Her performance earned her widespread acclaim and catapulted her to stardom in China. She has continued to impress in more than 30 notable TV dramas, showcasing her versatility and acting prowess.

Big-Screen Presence

Tang’s talent soon attracted the attention of other East Asian entertainment-industry powerhouses, namely Hong Kong and South Korea. Expanding her reach beyond China’s borders and onto the big screen, she appeared in the Pang brothers’ wuxia fantasy The Storm Warriors (2009) starring Hong Kong heartthrobs Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng, as well as A Chinese Odyssey Part Three (2016) and Cook Up a Storm (2017).

Bounty Hunters (2016), a China-South Korea-Hong Kong co-production, was another stride abroad, and it was followed by the Jingle Ma action-thriller Europe Raiders (2018), where she starred alongside Tony Leung and Kris Wu. The film was released in North America and Australia, opening doors for further international opportunities in the industry.

Sense and Style

Her acting credits aside, Tang frequently sits in the front row during fashion weeks. Her widespread popularity, striking appearance and effortless ability to embody elegance, sophistication and modernity have made her the perfect choice for global brands seeking to boost their influence in Asia. She was formerly a spokesperson for Coach and Bally, has collaborated with Roger Vivier and Valentino, and more recently endorsed Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton.

Tang is also an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. In various interviews, she has spoken about feminism and the importance of breaking traditional stereotypes and encouraging women to pursue their dreams fearlessly. She once said that a woman is at her most alluring when she is pregnant, opining: “A woman has charm and this is not achieved by a girl. She will only go through it after she has become a mother.”

Motherhood First

Herself giving birth a year or so after her 2018 wedding in Vienna to actor and singer Luo Jin, Tang has openly discussed the challenges and joys of balancing a successful career with her role as a mother. She emphasises the importance of support systems and the need for society to be more inclusive and understanding of working mothers. Her candid and relatable perspective on motherhood has resonated with many, making her an influential figure for women navigating similar journeys.

She acknowledged that she purposefully chose to reduce her workload when she became a wife and mother. “Of course, work is important, but you must also allocate time and energy to family and life,” she said. “Once you return to work, you won’t have much time to accompany your children. Children are constantly growing. If you miss it, then you miss it.”

The actress added it is a common misconception that she has done little recently because she has only worked on a couple of projects: “I am actually busy. But it’s meaningless to explain it to people because people who know me don’t need the explanation.”

Tiffany Tang has successfully bridged the gap between cultures, garnering recognition and endorsement from prestigious brands worldwide. Her commitment to feminism and her relatable insights on motherhood further contribute to her status as an influential figure. As she continues to make her mark in the entertainment industry, her star power shows no signs of dimming, solidifying her position as an icon of Chinese television and contemporary Asian cinema.

Basel Blooms: Fine art flowers once more at Hong Kong’s foremost art event

Art Basel Hong Kong 2024 promises to be an extravaganza marking a return to its pre-pandemic glory years. Boosted by a huge uptick in exhibitor numbers, this year’s fair is the perfect vehicle to shine a spotlight on the region’s art scene and beyond, from collectable rediscoveries to works by contemporary practitioners. The social side of the art fest, an inspiring mingling of artists, curators, gallerists, connoisseurs and general enthusiasts, will also be back to its upbeat best within the cavernous environs of the Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Exemplified by a strong presence of galleries from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, more than half of exhibitors operate spaces on the Asian continent. Notable galleries from Australia, New Zealand and India, among other countries, will showcase their artistic talent too. Art Basel will also present a city-wide programme of events and activities in collaboration with galleries, world-class institutions and cultural partners during show week – from 26-30 March including two preview days before the fair itself.

“Our goal is to connect guests from all around the world in our home, Hong Kong, by offering possibilities of collaboration and innovation inspired by art and artists,” says Art Basel Hong Kong Director Angelle Siyang-Le. “As the key strategic cultural hub in Asia and Asia-Pacific, the city plays a more important role than ever in bridging the evolving art landscape across regions.”

Broad strokes

To put this year’s offering into perspective, there is a 37 percent increase in exhibitor numbers compared to 2023. This equates to 243 international galleries including more than 65 names that didn’t pitch up last year, a participation level that matches numbers before Covid took its toll on the event. Galleries from 40 countries and territories across Asia, Europe, North and Latin America, the Middle East and Africa will present artworks spanning all market segments, from 20th-century masters to established contemporary artists to emerging voices that are making waves on the scene.

Organisers promise that diversity will be paramount, with textile art one of the key inclusions. In just two standouts dealing in this medium, London gallery Alison Jacques dedicates its booth to Sheila Hicks’ pioneering use of fabric and thread, and Shanghai’s Bank showcases the works of Bulgarian artist Maryn Varbanov, who influenced Chinese avant-garde.

Return to the fold

Respected names returning after a hiatus include Galerie Lelong & Co. Known for showing works by internationally established artists, the gallery was founded in Paris in 1981 by Daniel Lelong, Jacques Dupin and Jean Frémon, and opened a New York sister space four years later. Also making an appearance are Italian heavyweight Galleria d’Arte Maggiore and Kurimanzutto from Mexico.

Another returnee, India’s Experimenter, won the 2023 Frieze London Stand Prize for best gallery representation. Based on a grid concept, it showcased the abstract works of an intergenerational group of eight women artists in a perfect reflection of the passage of time. Frieze hailed Experimenter’s programme a “pace-setter” for the South Asian region.

Other notable attendees from the Indian subcontinent include Vadehra Art Gallery from New Delhi, and Tarq and Jhaveri Contemporary, both from Mumbai. Tarq will present art by Mumbai-born Sameer Kulavoor that explores the effects of the Indian megalopolis’ urban growth on its inhabitants, while Jhaveri’s space displays paintings, drawings and sculptural garlands that function as decorative devices.

New blood

A total of 25 galleries from across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas will join the fair for the first time. One such is Station, which debuted in Melbourne in 2011 and expanded to Sydney in 2019; it is dedicated to presenting engaging, conceptually-driven exhibitions and bringing Australian contemporary art to an international audience.

Another first-timer, Tim Van Laere Gallery, was founded in Antwerp in 1997 and represents international and emerging contemporary artists. Linseed is not only a newcomer to Art Basel Hong Kong, but also to the art world in general. Launched in 2022, the Shanghai gallery supports a new generation of forward-looking artists from a multitude of backgrounds and invites cutting-edge conversations.

Digital diversity

Digital art – highly prominent during the pandemic years – retains its important presence now the fair can resume human contact and tactile appreciation. Highlights include a presentation by Tokyo gallery Taro Nasu of works by visual and sound artist Ryoji Ikeda, and from Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder of Vienna, an AI-created film conceived by New York-based Miao Ying that was shortlisted for last year’s Sigg Prize.

Among galleries focusing on the 20th-century masters and exceptional historical works, Liang Gallery from Taipei pays tribute to the late abstract painter Hsiao Chin. Axel Vervoordt Gallery, which has spaces in both Antwerp and Hong Kong, participates in the main fair for the first time with a showcase by multi-disciplinary conceptual artist Kimsooja that combines performance, film, photographs and site-specific installation using textiles, light and sound.

Creations and curations

Supplementing the rich line-up of participants is the Discoveries section, where 22 galleries this year have been singled out to present solo works by emerging artists specifically created for the fair. Topics tackled here include urban development and the shifting nature of public space in the modern age.

Embracing 20 galleries, the Insights programme of curated projects spotlights artists from Asia-Pacific active from 1900 to the present day. First-time exhibitor √K Contemporary of Tokyo brings Nankoku Hidai, an influential figure in avant-garde 20th-century calligraphy, to the fore. Taipei gallery PTT Space shows works by the late master Shiy De-Jinn, whose oeuvre openly explored the theme of desire, testifying to his status as a queer pioneer in East Asia.

Close encounters

Last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong saw the return of all special sectors, including Kabinett, Encounters, Film and Conversations. Displayed in a separate section of selected galleries’ booths, Kabinett showcases a record 33 thematically-focused projects for 2024, focusing on modern and contemporary solo presentations from the region.

Encounters, curated for the third time by Alexie Glass-Kantor of Artspace Sydney, is dedicated to large-scale projects and spans 16 artworks, 11 of which were made especially for the fair. An off-site installation by Sydney-based artist Daniel Boyd will be on view at Pacific Place.

Free to the public, the Conversations and Film programmes give audiences a unique opportunity to partake in discussions and enjoy artists’ films in a dedicated auditorium at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. The pick of the latter is probably A New Old Play (2021) by Shenzhen-based artist and filmmaker Qiu Jiongjiong. Presented by Star Gallery of Beijing, it depicts a prominent clown reminiscing about his life, set against the backdrop of China’s tumultuous 20th-century history.

The Beautiful Game: Luxury brands are increasingly connecting with sports stars to further the ambition of both sides

Elite sports stars have long held an irresistible attraction for adoring fans, who admire the physical prowess and mental toughness that sees athletes conquer adversity and remain at the pinnacle of their sporting endeavour. The very best are courted by the top global brands wanting to connect their product with the excellence of their sporting ambassadors.

Just last month, German fashion house Hugo Boss looked to two upcoming tennis players from the country, Noma Noha Akugue and Ella Seidel, to spearhead a push into women’s tennis wear. During the qualification rounds of the Australian Open, the young stars wore Boss black and cream sportswear, including plisse-hem dresses or skirts, technical tops and layered shorts complete with logos.

Seidel, an 18-year-old known for her powerful play from the baseline, was certainly happy to join Boss as a brand ambassador, commenting on the win-win deal: “It is a real pleasure to enter this partnership with Boss at this exciting point in my career. I admire the brand’s continuous support for tennis – and sports in general – and am looking forward to channelling Boss energy, confidence and courage into my games.”

Akugue, two years her senior, also expressed delight in the association, opining the opportunity would put women’s tennis firmly in the spotlight and help her “forge a deeper connection with my fans”. Boss’s other tennis ambassador, Italian Matteo Berrettini, was due to sport new designs from the men’s tennis capsule collection he co-created but was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to injury.

Other fashion brands are attracted by the allure and athleticism of tennis players, with Gucci recently signing Jannick Sinner to its stable. The Italian, who carries his gear in a customised Gucci monogram duffel bag, appears in a poetic mood on the Gucci website, musing as he holds a book entitled Sinner by Sinner: “Jannick Sinner is humble. He’s aiming for perfection, and he’s not scared of doing things. … If I could have one superpower, it would be playing tennis forever. My journey is only just beginning!”

China draw

Luxury brands seeking to boost their influence with China’s youth are also offering endorsement contracts to the mainland’s top athletes.

Prada has signed tennis player Wang Qiang, whilst Dior has taken on basketball player Guo Ailun. Both luxury titans view these associations as a powerful means to nurture growth and brand loyalty in a growing market segment. Some analysts believe Chinese sports stars offer a more wholesome image than their peers in pop music or film.

Flying the French flag

Fashion brands are also maximising the opportunity presented by this summer’s Paris Olympics to score more points in the sporting arena. Luxury giant LVMH, whose maisons have created trophies or designed trophy trunks for high-level competitions for years, has struck a deal to sponsor the Games and appointed a trio of French talents as Louis Vuitton Paris Olympics ambassadors – swimmer Léon Marchand, artistic gymnast Mélanie de Jesus dos Santos and fencer Enzo Lefort. Jeweller Chaumet, meanwhile, is crafting the medals.

Marvellous Messi

Part of the excitement of top-tier sport for fans is the narrow margin between success and failure; it could be the width of a post or the toe of a goalkeeper that separates winning from losing. So it proved in the 2022 World Cup Final when the outstretched leg of the Argentine goalkeeper stopped a certain winning goal in the closing stages of that epic game. The eventual victory for Argentina cemented Lionel Messi’s reputation as probably the best player to have ever graced the game of football. His mesmerising dribbling ability, low centre of gravity and perfect spatial awareness left the global audience spellbound. He is quite simply unique, a once-in-a-generation footballer.

Ranked by Forbes as the second highest-paid athlete in 2023 (behind that other international soccer icon, Cristiano Ronaldo), and in the top three in the revenue stakes for eight years running, Messi’s wide appeal is a godsend for brands with big bucks at their disposal. He tops SportsPro’s list of the world’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes.

His star attraction is such that his Instagram account is just shy of 500 million followers. After his departure from Paris Saint-Germain last year, his next club, Inter Miami, had a massive uplift in their following. The Miami side, and potentially the maestro himself, are due in Hong Kong this month for an exhibition match.

Football fever

Messi mania is why Louis Vuitton was so keen to feature him alongside Ronaldo in its advertising campaign prior to the 2022 World Cup. The duo’s combined allure meant the ad went instantly viral. A dozen years earlier, the house had employed the services of a trio of footballing greats – Pelé, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane – in an advert.

Another footballing superstar, David Beckham, has become something of a fashion icon, and in 2015 secured a five-year multimillion-dollar deal with Kent & Curwen, the British menswear outfit offering heritage sporting style. Formerly owned by Hong Kong- based Trinity Group, Kent & Curwen previously had Beckham’s ex-England and Real Madrid teammate Michael Owen on its books.

Passion and risk

High-profile sport whips up a frenzy of passion and emotions, which brings rewards as well as risks for athletes and brands alike. Fans are desperate for success and competitors sometimes take risks, knowingly or unknowingly, that may cross the boundaries of lawful or ethical behaviour, posing huge challenges for their sponsors. Maradona, for instance, experienced a spectacular fall from grace at the 1994 World Cup after failing a drugs test. In 2016, when tennis ace Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a drug which can boost stamina and performance, sponsors Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche quickly distanced themselves from the Russian star.

Interestingly, Nike stood by Tiger Woods in 2009 after lurid details of his extra-marital affairs were revealed to a titillated public eager for scandal. Other major brands dropped their endorsement deals with the champion golfer, but not the US sneaker and sports apparel giant. Woods had been with Nike for two decades and the deal they signed in 2000 was thought to be worth US$100 million. Despite the Woods’ sponsorship, sales of golf equipment never reached the levels of others like football, running or basketball, and Nike discontinued its golf range in 2016.

Woods is known to have a close personal relationship with Nike co-founder Phil Knight and both paid emotional tributes upon their professional parting of ways. Such are the bonds forged over sport, its power to shape minds, and the desire of brands to tap into the glory.

Encore Values: Get front and centre for the Hong Kong Arts Festival, shaper of the cultural landscape

The Hong Kong Arts Festival (HKAF) has been a cornerstone of the city’s cultural scene for over half a century. Celebrating its 52nd edition this year, it continues to captivate audiences with diverse and world-class performances. The month-long cultural feast will see more than 1,400 outstanding international and local artists delivering over 150 performances of music, theatre, dance, opera and more. Additionally, Festival Plus as well as outreach and education events account for another 350 engaging arts activities.

The festival proper begins with the classics, as the Bavarian State Opera performs Richard Strauss’s 1912 opera Ariadne auf Naxos on 22 February, and closes on 22 March with a modern ballet, A Sigh of Love, devised by a Sino- French creative team for the Shanghai Ballet. As Kingman Lo, Vice-Chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Festival Society, says: “The 52nd edition of the HKAF will continue our legacy of offering a broad spectrum of the world’s best artists and performances, enticing the Hong Kong audience with an irresistible blend of timeless classics and groundbreaking new works.”

One of the key highlights of this year’s festival is the appearance of five-time Grammy Award- winner Angelique Kidjo. Over the course of a remarkable career spanning more than 40 years, the powerhouse diva has introduced the world to the essence of Africa. For her outstanding musical accomplishments and efforts, she was most recently granted the Polar Music Prize. With the promise of an evening filled with joyful music and the beautiful sounds of the African diaspora, Kidjo’s Mother Nature tour is now making its way to Hong Kong.

HKAF Executive Director Flora Yu also underscores the importance of showcasing contemporary pieces at the annual festival. “We make it our mission to introduce to Hong Kong audiences a fascinating line-up of daring and innovative new works which hold the promise of becoming canonical works of tomorrow,” she says. “In addition, we continue to present a variety of brilliant local works featuring some of the best Hong Kong artists.”

By putting the future on the canvas of the past, Van Gogh in Me is an immersive audio-visual experience that significantly pushes the limits of the conventional concert experience. Van Gogh and Klimt’s brushstrokes are transformed into a state-of-the-art performance experience by the Netherlands Chamber Choir’s resonant purity of sounds and emotions combined with real-time technology.

Back at Full Volume

This year’s festival marks a return to form after several lean cultural years that left Hong Kong arts enthusiasts starved of live international performances. “We are pleased to be able to present our 52nd Festival on a large scale after emerging from a three-year pandemic and staging the previous 51st Festival in semi-recovery mode,” notes Yu. This ramp-up is reflected in the HKAF’s overall budget which is anticipated to be about HK$150 million in the 2023-2024 financial year.

The festival has historically relied heavily on fundraising, and its goal for 2024 is that contributions and pledges from institutional and individual donors and benevolent foundations will account for about 48% of its total revenue. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, for example, has consistently supported the event since its inception. A further 25% of funds will come from the box office, while a recurring subvention of HK$18.89 million from the Hong Kong Government equates to about 12% of the yearly revenue. A possible additional government grant to match donations and sponsorship, and other revenue streams will comprise the remaining 15%.

Lasting Legacy

The Hong Kong Arts Festival was founded in 1973 with the aim of showcasing exceptional artistic talent from around the world while nurturing local creativity. Over the years, it has become one of Asia’s premier arts events, consistently attracting renowned international artists and troupes and earning a reputation for excellence.

By bringing together artists from diverse cultures and genres, the festival has fostered a vibrant exchange of ideas and artistic collaborations. It has encouraged local artists to push boundaries and experiment with new forms of expression, leading to the emergence of unique and innovative performances. Moreover, the festival’s influence extends beyond its annual program to actively engage with the community. Through educational initiatives, workshops and masterclasses, it nurtures the next generation of artists and cultivates an appreciation for the arts among students and the general public. These efforts have contributed to the growth of Hong Kong’s artistic ecosystem and the development of a discerning audience.

Expanded Reach

Running alongside the main performances is the Festival Plus program that aims to enrich the experience of culture buffs from all walks of life. A diverse range of activities like talks, masterclasses and meet-the-artist sessions in performance venues and community locations boosts audience engagement. Highlights this year include a backstage tour of the Ariadne auf Naxos production as well as a fun-filled exhibition titled Unboxing Chinese Opera. In addition, there are outreach events and education programmes targeted at students to foster the younger generation’s interest in, and knowledge of, the arts.

Founded in 1992, the Young Friends of the Hong Kong Arts Festival initiative offers a variety of seminars, lectures and backstage visits to full-time students up to the age of 25, reaching a remarkable 820,000 budding arts lovers thus far. Members of Young Friends can experience two chosen performances and rehearsals during the festival.

In an effort to make the arts more accessible, the HKAF has expanded its presence across multiple venues throughout Hong Kong. Beyond the traditional theatre spaces, performances are held in parks, community centres and heritage sites. This approach aims to bring the arts closer to the public, breaking down barriers and reaching audiences who may not typically attend formal concerts or plays.

Embracing the Future

Organisers are focused on ensuring HKAF’s continued relevance and accessibility to the public by embracing new technologies and formats. Key initiatives include expanding the festival’s digital presence and incorporating digital elements like virtual reality experiences and immersive installations into its programming. Live streaming, on-demand performances and interactive online platforms enable individuals who may be unable to attend in person or prefer the convenience of experiencing the arts from their own homes to engage with the festival offerings.

With a storied past and a vision for the future, the Hong Kong Arts Festival continues to shape the artistic landscape of Hong Kong. As the curtain rises on the 52nd edition, it remains an indispensable platform for artistic expression and cultural exchange, exciting audiences and inspiring generations to come.

Passport To Success: Gain the ultimate global lifestyle with passports of your choice

In these uncertain times, the ability to travel freely and live and work in other jurisdictions is increasingly sought after by high-net-worth individuals (HNWI). The advantages of full access to the global economy and unfettered travel are numerous, and the queue of countries willing to allow foreign nationals to purchase residency and citizenship rights is growing – both parties have much to gain.

Just last year, for example, Namibia launched a residence by investment programme in a bid to seek foreign investment and boost economic growth. The scheme allows investors to secure residency rights in one of the most nature- and wildlife-rich countries in the world.

“Nation states are using residence and citizenship by investment programmes as an innovative financing tool,” says Christian H. Kaelin, Chairman of London-based investment migration consultancy Henley & Partners. These programmes are a means “to allocate investors’ funds to national or regional social, infrastructure and development projects that benefit their citizens and residents”.

Countries normally offer two types of schemes – one which grants residency rights, known as a ‘Golden Visa’, in return for a substantial investment, and another that accords citizenship rights (leading to a passport) following the outlay of capital, often called a ‘Golden Passport’. In most cases, the person willing to plough money into the recipient country is not obliged to live there full-time during a year. Sometimes, there is no need to stay there at all.

Call of the Caribbean

Take the Caribbean area, for instance, where five countries have a Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program: Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Grenada and St Lucia. Only the first of these requires a minimum period of residency.

“The advantage of citizenship is that it is for life and affords you protection by the state,” says Christopher Willis, Managing Partner of investment migration expert Latitude Residency & Citizenship. “In Antigua and Barbuda, you are required to spend five full days within the first five years of becoming a citizen. Once this is completed, you do not have to spend any further time on the island. None of the other islands has a residence requirement.”

The two main investment options are to make a donation or purchase approved real estate. “In the case of St Lucia, you can also invest into a zero-interest government bond,” notes Willis.

European allure

Some of the most sought-after residence and citizenship by investment programs are in Europe. For the past eight years, Malta has headed a ranking by Henley & Partners of the best such schemes. “Malta operates a very successful CBI programme and is seen as the top standard in the industry,” says Willis. “Turkey’s programme is very popular; however it does not give you the same access to Europe as Malta.

He adds: “Portugal’s Golden Visa is a residence programme but it has significant processing delays. It is attractive as the day count requirement is low (an average of seven days per year for five years) and there is a clear path to citizenship, as long as you learn some basic Portuguese.”

Almost a dozen European Union countries have some form of residency or citizenship- by-investment scheme. In most cases, those setting their sights on a European home base or a passport will need to purchase property, public debt or investment bonds, or make a capital transfer. Certain countries like Switzerland and Austria require the investment to create jobs. Within Europe, acquiring permanent residency or citizenship in a country usually necessitates the investor living there.

Costs of residency

The amount of money needed to invest can vary, with EU Golden Visa programmes ranging from a minimum of €250,000 to €2 million depending on the type of purchase. Usually there are strict eligibility criteria for the visa or passport, including proof of ownership of investment money, the ability to sustain yourself and family members for the period you want to stay in the EU, and no criminal record.

Concerns have been mooted about these schemes. The European Commission recently voiced fears that obtaining citizenship in a European country, and by default visa-free access throughout the EU, could pose a security risk and opined that it should not be something that is brought and sold. Other bodies spotlight the danger that they could become vehicles for money laundering. The Greek Prime Minister announced that the minimum investment needed for its Golden Visa Program would increase from €250,000 to €500,000 in some parts of the country in order to “increase the affordability of real estate for Greeks”.

Domicile diversification

Nevertheless, there has been significant and ongoing growth in the demand for residence and citizenship by investment overseas over the past few years. As Dominic Volek, Group Head of Private Clients at Henley & Partners, notes, “The appeal of investment migration for affluent families is truly universal due to its many benefits, ranging from domicile diversification to global mobility enhancement, to accessing world-class education and healthcare, to having a plan B in times of turmoil.”

Ultimately, having the right combination of residency and citizenship rights will afford greater access to the global economy and boost one’s economic opportunities. Henley & Partners has a tool that analyses passports to determine what share of the world’s GDP is accessible visa-free to those that hold them. Japan tops many rankings as having the most powerful passport.

Combination look

Many HNWI are attracted by the freedom inherent in possessing multiple residency and citizenship options. Willis insists: “The more options you have, the better prepared you will be. We see many applicants doing a ‘combo’ of residence and citizenship. They like the speed of getting economic citizenship in the Caribbean and also have a long-term strategy for citizenship in Europe or North America.

“If you acquire citizenship in Malta, for example, you benefit from settlement rights in all of the European Union member states. As such, you wouldn’t need to apply to another European country as you are already covered.”

He adds: “Some people choose to renounce their citizenship and need to have an alternative in place, which could be from the Caribbean or Malta.”

Despite the complexities involved in maintaining in a diversified approach, Willis is adamant this is the best policy, as long as care is taken to meet the different residency requirements of each location, especially if the intention is to graduate to citizenship. It is not necessary to obtain banks accounts in many of these jurisdictions, though “most applicants will establish some links to their new country of residence and/or citizenship”.

Cayman choice

Daniel Altneu, Partner at global offshore legal firm Bedell Cristin, helps interested parties apply for the Cayman Islands’ permanent residency by investment programme. “[Successful applicants] only need to reside in Cayman for a minimum of one day per calendar year, so the residence requirements are extremely low,” he says.

Applicants need to invest a minimum sum of CI$2 million (US$2.44 million) in developed real estate to qualify for Certificates of Permanent Residence for themselves and any family members, and Altneu notes there is a reasonable degree of flexibility as to what property they wish to purchase. The scheme gives them and their spouse lifetime residency in Cayman and the ability to work there.

The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory, and thus offers a potential route to another, much larger sought-after jurisdiction. However, as Altneu points out, “Should the holder and any family members wish to progress to Cayman Islands and British citizenship, the annual residence requirements are greater.”

Sea Change: Hong Kong shipowners street into a new era, confident of continuing our status as a global maritime hub

Last year, the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) celebrated its 65th anniversary and also elected its first chairman of Indian origin. Angad Banga took the helm at one of the world’s largest and most vocal shipowner associations in November. Its 180-plus members represent companies owning, managing or operating a fleet, or providing shipping industry services, and together their vessels boast a carrying capacity of more than 223 million deadweight tonnes.

Banga is chief operating officer of The Caravel Group, his family’s company with maritime, commodities and asset management arms. Through his two-year stint as HKSOA chairman, he is also serving as rotational chairman of the Asian Shipowners’ Association until mid this year, which embraces bodies from Australia, mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea as well as ASEAN countries.

He explains that the HKSOA is driven by volunteerism; like his father, Dr Harry Banga – once one of the youngest master mariners in the Indian merchant navy – and other members of The Caravel Group, he has been active in the association for many years. “I felt that the time was right to put myself forward for election to further support the global and local development of the industry and our maritime hub here in Hong Kong,” he says.

Initially pursuing a career in finance and private equity roles, Banga’s background is notably diverse and perhaps unique for someone in his new role. He is proud of his elevation as the august body’s first chair of Indian descent, but he also keeps a sense of perspective – the maritime industry, not surprisingly, is extremely international in outlook, has English as the common language and members with businesses anchored all over the world. “I do feel the significance of being the first person of Indian origin leading the association,” he says. “I do, however, see myself as a Hong Konger with Indian heritage and an international perspective, having been raised here from an early age, but having also been educated in the US.”

Life at sea and onshore

Clearly devoted to the industry, he is a keen to promote it as a rewarding career across many disciplines for both men and women – “everything from law, to finance, insurance, marketing, engineering and data science”. “The salaries in shipping are competitive when you compare them to other industries, and its global nature means there are good opportunities to move around and experience working and living in different countries,” he shares.

During the celebrations to mark its 65-year lifespan, former Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation Efthimios Mitropoulos stated the HKSOA has never been shy to speak out on important topics. Banga insists he will continue to be outspoken in matters close to his heart during his tenure. “I feel very strongly about seafarer welfare, including their physical and mental health and wellbeing,” he says. “Seafarers are essential key workers and their work is absolutely vital within the global supply chain.”

The pandemic was an extremely challenging period for all at sea. And as borders closed, mariners spent much longer onboard than usual, resulting in spikes in anxiety and other mental health issues. Banga is proud of HKSOA efforts to further seafarers’ rights in areas such as crew change, shore leave and vaccinations during that time, and promises that their wellbeing will continue to be a core issue.

Safe harbour

On a strategic level, the association will continue to do its utmost to preserve Hong Kong’s status as one the world’s premier maritime centres and to promote its interests globally. “I’m very confident about the Hong Kong shipping industry going forward, and our position as an international finance, shipping and trade centre,” says Banga, noting that the HKSOA plays an active role in many maritime arenas including the International Chamber of Shipping.

“Hong Kong continues to have the fourth largest ship registry in the world, and as a result of the recent shipping tax concessions, it is seen as an increasingly attractive centre for ship-leasing companies, with several building or expanding their portfolios in the city – which has a flow-on effect of increasing the demand for other supporting maritime service companies.”

He highlights the competitiveness of the shipping tax rates and incentives introduced by the government over the past few years – tax on ship leasing, ship management and ship agency is now either nil or just 8.25% (half the normal corporation profits tax rate of 16.5%). Tax concessions afforded to commercial principals such as ship managers specifically address third- party ship management as a stand-alone business. “The fact these concessions are also extended to businesses within the service sectors, such as brokers, ship agents and marine insurers, to name a few, means that everyone can benefit and grow together,” he says.

Shipping forecast

Such incentives should act as a major “drawcard” for shipping-related companies to be based in Hong Kong. “The Hong Kong government has traditionally been very supportive of the maritime industry,” says Banga, who also notes the volume of maritime arbitrations in Hong Kong has been steadily increasing.

The association continues to keep an open dialogue with government representatives on ways to grow the industry. The establishment of a separate Transport and Logistics Bureau dedicated purely to transport and logistics matters (rather than being grouped in with Housing) was partly down to HKSOA advocacy.

In another positive move, the Hong Kong government recently completed a ‘smart port’ study, planning to “enhance port efficiency and reduce cargo handling time and cost through streamlining and optimising the multi-party coordinated processes electronically”.

Greener future

The global shipping industry is now steering a course to decarbonisation, including the use of future fuels, in a process considered essential if the world is to keep within the climate goals set down in the Paris Agreement. According to its new chairman, the HKSOA is fully supportive of this transition and will take onboard cooperation and support from all parties. “In the energy transition journey, some key challenges include regulation, digital innovation and attracting, training and retaining people to be able to run ships as effectively and efficiently as possible,” notes Banga.

As for his own company, he says The Caravel Group is reducing carbon emissions from its owned and managed ships given that greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to fuel consumption. “A large part of our efforts focuses on implementing measures to conserve engine power and improve energy efficiency. This includes improving our consumption monitoring and data collection processes to be more comprehensive and accurate, so we can make better decisions in managing each vessel.”

Hong Kong’s position within the Greater Bay Area should allow fleets to draw on the resources of the region’s innovative R&D centres in the transition drive. He also believes that Hong Kong, with its strategic location within Asia and robust infrastructure, is ideally placed to become a future fuel bunkering hub. “We need skilled people to be able to support industry developments, such as the rolling out of new technologies and future fuels,” says Banga.

The Great Fashion Shift: The CFDA Fashion Awards champions inclusivity while pinpointing designers’ power to shape society

Fashion is more than just fabric and style; it is a form of expression and an industry that constantly evolves. Each year, the CFDA Fashion Awards celebrates the pinnacle of creativity, innovation and talent in the American fashion world. It not only recognises outstanding achievements but also serves as a platform to highlight the importance of fashion and its transformative power.

“Fashion, like all creative acts, is a sign of culture, which is to say, a sign of life,” said actress Anne Hathaway, as she hosted the glittering 2023 awards presentation in New York last month. “The ability to express nuance with fabric is a gift you all possess which I value so deeply, and the ability to do so six times a year without repeating yourself and missing a beat? I’m in awe. Fashion is a dream we can all live in.”

The CFDA Fashion Awards honours creators in a wide range of categories, including Womenswear, Menswear, Accessories, Emerging Talent and Lifetime Achievement. The event has emerged as a definitive moment in the fashion calendar, where the crème de la crème of the US industry gathers to celebrate talent and ingenuity.

It was established in 1981 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), a non-profit trade association of more than 450 prominent American designers of jewellery, accessories, womenswear and menswear, whose main mission is to increase the influence of American fashion in the world economy. Annual nominees, honourees and winners are determined by the CFDA Awards Guild, which is comprised of CFDA members, leading fashion journalists, stylists and top retail executives.

Designer Diversity

Dubbed the ‘Oscars of the Fashion World’ due to their celebrity and model influence, this year’s gala celebrated and questioned the very definition of what it meant to be a designer, as well as the power of immigrants, women’s rights and diversity on an evening where more designers of colour were nominated for awards than could have ever happened before. It also marked the passing of the CFDA torch from Tom Ford to another Tom – Thom Browne.

“As we approached this evening, we carefully thought about the appropriateness of having a fashion celebration at a time like this, but tonight is about so much more than celebrating individuals, it’s about coming together as a collective to champion creativity, diversity and inclusion within our American industry,” said Browne, who became the Council Chairman in January 2023.

The venue, the American Museum of Natural History, served as more than just a famous site. It contextualised the event further as the CDFA marked the history of US fashion with not one, but two unique tributes: venerated models Pat Cleveland and Bethann Hardison and designer Stephen Burrows honoured the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Versailles – the 1973 runway show in Paris that matched hallowed French designers against the then upstart Americans – while singer Mary J. Blige toasted the 50th anniversary of hip-hop by introducing a film by Hype Williams featuring Missy Elliott, LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa.

The Winners’ Circle

Tennis star Serena Williams, who became the first athlete to be fêted by the CFDA as she picked up the Fashion Icon Award, recalled her experience with fashion, reimagining traditional tennis outfits with denim skirts, purple tutus and bodysuits and knee-high boots and beads in her hair. “I stand here with you all today, not just as an athlete, but as someone who has personally experienced the extraordinary power of fashion,” she said. “Through fashion, we truly have the opportunity to paint our own tapestry and share our unique perspectives with the world.”

Trumping Joseph Altuzarra of Altuzarra, Christopher John Rogers, Raul Lopez of Luar and Tory Burch for the coveted top prize, Khaite’s Catherine Holstein earned the Womenswear Designer Award for the second consecutive year. As the award was presented, a list of qualities womenswear must possess was rattled off: “A design that fits a variety of body shapes, skin tones, age groups, personality types, seasons, budgets, hopes and dreams, passes 24/7 endurance performance stress tests, it’s aspirational, yet grounded, fully rooted in the myriad responsibilities of a woman’s daily life.”

Among the other winners this year were Willy Chavarria for Menswear, Diotima’s Rachel Scott for Emerging Designer, The Row’s Mary- Kate and Ashley Olsen for Accessory Designer, and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop for Innovation. Domenico De Sole, Chairman of Tom Ford International, claimed the Founder’s Award; Maria Cornejo clinched the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award; Mara Hoffman took home the Environmental Sustainability Award; and Alina Cho became the first Asian-American recipient of the Media Award.

Jonathan Anderson of JW Anderson and Loewe, whose halftime-show outfit for Rihanna at this year’s Super Bowl will live long in the memory, was honoured as the International Designer of the Year, while Vera Wang received the Board of Directors’ Tribute, celebrating her work in the bridal fashion. “I hope this adds a much-needed light on the bridal industry for a fashion veteran like myself, who barely made it to the altar at 40 and was probably the woman least likely to get married, let alone devote 30-plus years to creating wedding gowns,” said Wang with a smile.

Fashion Forward and Onward

As presenters and winners subtly addressed global and fashion issues, the tone of the event shifted to one of solemnity. One of the event’s most heart-wrenching moments was during Cornejo’s Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech. “I dedicate this award to peace and the many children that are voiceless, who will not have a lifetime,” said former US First Lady Michelle Obama’s go-to designer whose family fled Chile as political refugees when she was a child.

The 2023 ceremony was certainly far more star-studded than in years past. But despite the glitz and glamour, it was about using this platform to a greater cause and a call for unity. And maybe that was a clue to the import of the event: in a world that is increasingly angry and divided, this was a time for an industry to come together and make peace. But while a show of inclusivity and moving, impactful speeches is important, is it enough?

Hail Hong Kong: Resilient and resurgent, Asia’s world city still commands attention and captivates the soul

In the annual financial market rankings of world cities, Hong Kong has proudly taken its place in the global elite for decades, usually just behind New York and London. While there is no denying it recently experienced difficult times, few can doubt that Hong Kong remains a great place to live, work and play. What makes it so compelling is possibly its uniqueness – a singular melting pot of cultures and traditions, of the metropolitan and the rugged, majestic country parks, of the local and the international.

Financial powerhouse

Above all, it has a harbour like no other. It was this magnificent natural deep-water shelter that spawned its international trade links and led to its world prominence. Underpinning Hong Kong’s many strengths today is a world-class financial sector. The city is currently ranked fourth in the world on the Global Financial Centres Index and was placed second globally in economic freedom by leading think-tank Fraser Institute in 2023.

Hong Kong is an ideal place to invest and do business, says Louis Chan, Deputy Director of Research at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, who cites various factors behind its ability to attract the global financial and business community. “Hong Kong is a free port and does not levy any customs tariff on imports or exports.

It operates a level-playing field and believes in upholding firmly the Rule of Law. There is complete freedom of capital movement and it has a clean and efficient government,” he notes.

A low and simple taxation system is also attractive for the business community. Its legal system is much vaunted as well: Hong Kong is the third most preferred seat for arbitration globally according to the 2021 International Arbitration Survey conducted by Queen Mary University of London.

Money talks

Chan reels off an impressive list of statistics that see Hong Kong right at the top of the tree in global finance: “According to the UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] World Investment Report 2023, global FDI [foreign direct investment] inflows to Hong Kong amounted to US$117.7 billion in 2022, ranking fourth globally behind the United States (US$285.1 billion), mainland China (US$189.1 billion) and Singapore (US$141.2 billion).”

In 2022, Hong Kong was the world’s fifth- largest host of FDI stock, as well as the second- largest foreign exchange market in Asia and the fourth largest in the world. It is also the world’s largest offshore renminbi (RMB) business hub, with about 75% of the global offshore RMB processed via Hong Kong. At the end of March this year, the Hong Kong stock market ranked as the fourth biggest in Asia and the seventh in the world.

Well connected

According to Chan, Hong Kong’s world-class infrastructure and sophisticated support services play a vital role in this success, along with its proximity to other markets in Asia, including mainland China, ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the Asia-Pacific nations of RCEP (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) that form the world’s largest free-trade area.

Being the most open and international city in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) also brings advantages. The GBA’s economic size and growth, Mainland support policies, increased economic opening, better connectivity and more comprehensive people-centric policies, combined with Hong Kong’s position under ‘One Country-Two Systems’, means the city has a great future, according to Chan.

“The largest economic opportunity for Hong Kong today is extending its roles in the GBA and the rest of Mainland China from being a super-connector to a super value-adder by fostering international connectivity, both in terms of industry and market,” he says.

Expansion of the Hong Kong International Airport should cement its position as the world’s busiest terminal for international air cargo, with the new three-runway system due to open by the end of next year. Harking back to its origins, Hong Kong also remains one of the world’s busiest ports, ranking ninth in terms of container throughput in 2022.

Top talent

Other important factors contribute to Hong Kong’s world status – including its pool of talent. The University of Hong Kong has unseated a top Singapore institution to reclaim its place as the second-best Asian university, behind only Peking University, according to the QS Asia University Rankings for 2024. Indeed, five Hong Kong universities rank in the World Top 100 according to QS.

Hong Kong offers various schemes to attract talent; just one example is the Global STEM Professorship Scheme, which is designed to attract world-renowned scholars to engage in information and technology-related teaching and research in the city.

Investing in the future

Developing Hong Kong expertise in innovation and technology (I&T) is high on the agenda for future success. The government has ploughed more than US$19 billion into I&T development since 2017, aiming to create one of the most important I&T centres worldwide. Hong Kong is also Asia’s second- largest fundraising centre for biotechnology, with close to 4,000 start-ups as of 2022.

The city also aspires to be a global capital for clinical trials and the development of new drugs and medical treatments. Chan notes the establishment of the InnoLife Healthtech Hub in the Hong Kong- Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park will leverage Hong Kong’s strengths in life and health sciences.

The good life

Hong Kong’s blend of diversity and international cosmopolitan lifestyle draw in highly skilled talent. “What makes the city even more attractive is its East-meets-West culture characterised by a fascinating mix of old and new,” opines Chan. It is famous for its superb range of culinary delights and can boast some of the finest restaurants a city has to offer. Its broad, deep pool of world- class talent in finance, tourism, architecture and other sectors benefits from living in a fast-paced city where good food and fine wine are plentiful and beautiful scenery of rolling hills and restful waters is easily enjoyed. A plethora of music and entertainment venues also enhance the joie de vivre.

Arts smart

Acknowledged as a major centre for arts and culture, Hong Kong is now ranked as one of the three largest art markets in the world alongside London and New York. The likes of Art Basel, Le French May, the International Arts Carnival, International Jazz Festival and International Arts & Collectibles Expo, to name just a few, headline a top-notch arts calendar. “These annual events provide art enthusiasts with a platform not just to immerse in the arts, but also to connect with like-minded individuals and talents from around the globe,” says Chan.

National policy aims to reinforce Hong Kong’s status as an East and West cultural melting pot, and the city is set to host the GBA Culture and Arts Festival next year. The West Kowloon Cultural District continues to develop a global reputation, spearheaded by the iconic M+, Asia’s first museum of contemporary visual culture, and the Hong Kong Palace Museum. The latter, says Chan, “boasts more than 900 priceless artefacts from Beijing’s Palace Museum – many of which will be on display in Hong Kong for the first time, while others have never been showcased to the world before”.

Creating and competing

Hong Kong still retains its flair for creative arts and cherishes the artisans and craftspeople who embellish its thriving local arts scene. Other traditional strengths, including the film industry, are set to receive a shot in the arm through a HK$4.3 billion injection into the Film Development Fund and the CreateSmart Initiative, which nurtures Hong Kong as a regional culture capital.

Sporting prowess, which in years gone by received little recognition, is now being cultivated as Hong Kong embraces its standing as a well- rounded world city. Athletes and sports stars are now performing admirably at international competitions, and a major state-of-the-art sports complex is due to open next year at Kai Tak in good time to co-host the 2025 National Games.