Chimelong International Circus and why Hong Kong should have a circus

On a recent trip to Guangzhou I decided to take my friends to the Chimelong International Circus, which was my best memory from a previous trip in 2010. I remembered the massive circus tent, the sheer number of international artists and the smiles on these Chinese kids faces.

We stayed 2 days, 1 night and I thought the circus would be a nice thing to do at night, something with a ‘sense of place’ unique to Guangzhou and a safe bet for good entertainment. And it just met my expectations. The show had changed since I last saw it but there were still many overseas artists, mostly from Eastern Europe. The rhythm was excellent with fast and loud numbers alternating with slower and more poetic ones. Most animals from the nearby zoo also part of Chimelong Resort appeared on stage but no apparent cruelty or disrespect.

I am a resident of Hong Kong and I have always thought we lacked of entertainment for tourists. So here is why  Hong Kong should have a circus too:

– Circus can mix local  and international numbers, therefore providing a ‘sense of place’ together with an international feel (critical for visitors to Hong Kong)

– Circus are easy to update and therefore attract repeat visitors (something Hong Kong will need to start working on sooner or later)

– Circus are for all ages: families with young kids, young couples on a date, elderly groups (all seen in Guangzhou)

– Circus are the must-see evening show in many cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou

Do you agree with me? Now here are a few pictures of the Chimelong International Circus if you haven’t been before, hoping it will rally you to my cause:

Very poetic moment: dancers dropping down in transparent plastic bubbles

Very poetic moment: dancers dropping down in transparent plastic bubbles

Elephants dancing

Elephants dancing

Parade in the middle of the audience

Parade in the middle of the audience

Another poetic moment. Just before the room lights up with dozens of artists falling from the sky

Another poetic moment. Just before the room lights up with dozens of artists falling from the sky

DRAMA

DRAMA!

The most popular number: great showmen

The most popular number: great showmen

Finale: a bit disappointing

Finale

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Why Asia Society Centre should make it to Hong Kong’s top attractions

The Asia Society Hong Kong Centre opened in February 2012 in the former Explosives Magazine in Admiralty. It took over 10 years for a partnership between the Hong Kong government and the US non-profit Asia Society to give birth to this incredible building floating above Pacific Place and a successful example of blend of heritage and creativity.

Asia Society Hong Kong

Although the Asia Society Centre ran the exhibition Buddhism in Art when it opened and a few others since then, it has not received much attention until recently with the opening of No Country, a new exhibition showing contemporary art from South and Southeast Asia. This one is advertised everywhere, in the MTR, in HK Magazine, in Time Out, FT Weekend, etc. And so I decided to go check it out. I have to say there was nothing to draw me there before.

But what was I missing? The Asia Society is a real gem and should definitely make it to Hong Kong’s list of top attractions. Here is why:

  • Great location, just above Pacific Place and Admiralty MTR (one of Hong Kong’s busiest stations), 2 stops away from Causeway Bay and TST where a majority of tourists concentrate;
  • Interesting mix of heritage (historical buildings preserved), culture (exhibitions) and architecture (design by Billie Tsien & Todd Williams);
  • A focus on Asian content, which appeals to Asian tourists (China, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, etc) on the rise in Hong Kong. The current exhibition is well curated, showing newly acquired pieces from the Guggenheim’s collection;
  • A complete tourist experience complementing the visit: relaxing (very zen roof garden), photo opportunities (stunning views of the Victoria Harbour and Admiralty), dining (AMMO restaurant) and shopping (well curated store).

I wish I had known that before. For some reason the image I had of the Asia Society Centre was that of an exclusive members-only club, which was organizing exhibitions from time to time; maybe because of the high profile conferences they organize where entry fees are quite high?

Now I realize I was wrong. The Asia Society Centre could be one of the best museums/galleries in Hong Kong. The question: is this what they want? If yes, they will have to do a lot of work on their perception among the general public and to organize more ‘blockbuster exhibitions’ to keep people talking about them.

I am all up for it. As I said earlier, Hong Kong desperately needs more tourist attractions and the Asia Society Centre has got everything it needs to be one of the top ones.

What Hong Kong needs to become a kick-ass destination?

So last night I watched the first episode of NewsRoom; you know the one where Will McAvoy goes on about America not being the greatest country in the world before concluding it CAN be. And I got really inspired. I started thinking about Hong Kong as a destination and how it might not be the best in the world but it definitely can be. Now, what does Hong Kong need then to become a kick-ass destination?

A bit of background first. Just a few weeks ago, Mainland China released its new tourism law to regulate the industry and give tourists more protection. This will have a huge impact on tourism in Hong Kong since conducted tours subsidized by retail commissions are no longer allowed. Tourist arrivals from Mainland China to Hong Kong will drop but, on the bright side, this creates huge opportunities for the Hong Kong destination to work harder and become better… possibly the best!

Where to start? We need a change of attitude; we can’t be complacent anymore. We have to recognize we are not the best destination in the world and in this process grow a strong collective desire to be the best. And this is possible. Hong Kong has all it takes: people, money, geography, infrastructures, etc.

Then I suggest we have a look at an article I wrote last year, Singapore v Hong Kong, which had quite a few hints on what sort of attractions could go well in Hong Kong: home-grown, nature-based and heritage.

So here is a wish list of attractions that could be developed around town for my tourism and property friends in Hong Kong to consider:

  • A private Hong Kong memories museum in Central: a contemporary interpretation of Hong Kong’s heritage and culture
  • A cool nature adventure park in Lantau: the latest in ziplines, tree-top courses, bungee jump, etc
  • A family-friendly nightly cultural show in Kowloon Park: based on food and heritage themes
  • A canto-pop indoor park for young adults in Kowloon Bay: by 4D Live Park with a hologram theatre, music experience (interactive, F&B, etc) and music complex (stage, etc)
  • An 8th Estate vinopolis by the ferris wheel at the New Central Harbourfront: a vibrant, interactive space where local residents and tourists can indulge their passion for wine, food, music, art and life

This would add to the list of other cool projects already under development: M+ Museum in West Kowloon Cultural District, Ocean Park’s water park, Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland and the ferris wheel at New Central Harbourfront. And for a bit of fun you might even want to have a look at some of the crazy attractions projects that never went through in Hong Kong.

It is time for tourists to Hong Kong to have more choice than Peak Tram, Ocean Park, Disneyland and Madame Tussauds. I mean, Madame Tussauds is one of the city’s top 5 attractions, really!?

When Peter Lam, the new chairman of HKTB, started in May 2013 he said he was in favor of more attractions he thought the destination needed. I hope he likes my ideas. If anyone has more, please send through.

And now over to Peter Lam – our Will McAvoy – to make it happen! Always happy to help of course…

Do Asians like scary stuff?

This article was originally written for my column in blooloop.com

As we are entering the Halloween month I look back at Halloween events and scary rides in Asia and ask myself what is it that people like in the East.

Photo credit: Ocean Park

Photo credit: Ocean Park

For the teenagers… and the whole family

Like everywhere scary rides and events are popular with teenagers and particularly with small groups of friends who like to share this kind of experience and ‘test’ each other’s limits.

This is something Ocean Park recognized when they started their Halloween celebrations 13 years ago, mostly targeted at local teenagers with dedicated marketing platforms. Watch this video from last year to see Halloween revisited in Gangnam style.

Ocean Park’s Halloween event has become Asia’s largest Halloween themed event and one of the most anticipated seasonal festivities in Hong Kong. It attracted more than 750,000 visitors in 2012.

Other attractions in the region saw the potential of scary rides to reach out to a more demanding group of teenagers. Merlin Entertainment added its SCREAM attraction to Madame Tussauds in Shanghai (2006) and Hong Kong (2008). In Malaysia, Sunway Lagoon revealed in 2008 its SCREAM Park in collaboration with New York-based The Sudden Impact! These walk-through attraction feature live performers, themed environments and sound effects.

Beyond ghost stories and haunted houses, one reason that Halloween is being embraced in Asia is the opportunity to dress up which seems to be absent in most Asian celebrations. And this opens avenues for a more family-friendly event, which suits very well attractions and theme parks.

According to Ms. Vivian Lee, Ocean Park’s Director of Marketing, “more and more people look to the Halloween event for fun elements for the family” so for the first time this year the event will be open all day for all visitors of the park. Watch this video to see how the park is adapting its message for a family crowd beyond its strong teenager followers.

Cultural adaptation

Despite what I would have thought, there actually is a strong horror and ghosts culture in Asia.

Asian horror films, especially from Hong Kong, Japan and Korea, are quite popular and famous for their original storylines and strong psychological plots, making them different from traditional scary films. A number of them were even adapted in Hollywood.

In Japan, going to a ghost house called “obake yashiki” is a summer tradition.

Photo credit: Reuters

Photo credit: Reuters

Ghost houses are set up in amusements parks with the tradition linked to Japanese Buddhism which views August as the time when ancestral spirits may return for a visit and Japanese visit their elders’ graves.

When it comes to Halloween, Asians can relate because of its links to the supernatural. Asia has plenty of pre-existing festivals to celebrate the return of the dead. In China Halloween is celebrated as Teng Chieh, where people visit the local Buddhist temple to make paper boats to carry their deceased loved ones to peace. Japan’s Obon sees red lanterns hung in houses to guide the spirits home and in Korea the celebration of Chusok sees relatives visiting graveyards with offerings of food as a mark of respect to the dead.

According to Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park, “it is very important for Halloween to be close with local culture, Hong Kong people like to see local stars in the event as well as to experience local ghost stories. I have come to realise that local people are very superstitious and somehow they loved to be scared by the local culture. They really believe in their own ghosts and ghost stories.”

The same cultural adaptation goes with scary rides and attractions. According to local sources, Merlin Entertainment is planning to introduce its brand The Dungeons to Asia with its first ‘museum coming alive’ scheduled to open in Sentosa, Singapore in 2014 with a storyline based on the ‘dark’ history of the city.

But local cultures can be hard to deal with sometimes. The best example is when Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) decided to cancel their very popular Halloween Horrors event in 2011 claiming negative feedback from “corporations, friends of the zoo, the public and the media about the event, especially over the relevance in relation to conservation” and a clash with the Deepavali festival in October. Some students from Singapore Polytechnics – involved in the organization of the event – reported that someone in the senior management even said: “We should not worship the devil”.

Coincidentally the attendance level at WRS parks have been disappointing in the last year and the new park River Safari has seen a slow start. Could it be that they lost the support of a key opinion leaders group that is the local teenagers?

And during this time, Ocean Park Hong Kong is adapting to local cultures and embracing both teenagers and families with its Halloween event, resulting in record attendance levels (over 7 million this year).

I will let you make your own judgment but one thing for sure: Asians do like scary stuff!

HOTELS: If you turned your lobby into a winery

8th Estate Winery

At Celebrating Life we like to think outside the box and to innovate for our clients by bringing cultural & entertainment concept where one would not necessarily expect them.

Being a director of the 8th Estate Winery, Hong Kong’s first and only winery, I’ve always thought we had here a unique concept that’s never been done in Asia. It has been exceptionally well received by Hong Kong residents and we have many fans.

“8th Estate Winery has grown into a brand Hong Kong can truly call its own. Each wine is unique and represents the vision and skill of Lysanne Tusar and her talented team.  With China and the Asia Pacific region at its doorstep, 8th Estate is poised for success.” Zeb Eckert – Host, Bloomberg TV

“Against all expectations, the 8th Estate team manages to produce vintage after vintage of delicious and attractive wines in what must surely be the world’s only high-rise winery.  Coupling their commitment to quality with a picturesque barrel room, scenic terrace and hospitable tasting room, 8th Estate Winery has become one of Hong Kong’s most popular wine events venues.” Debra Meiburg – Master of Wine

8th Estate Winery

Now wouldn’t it be nice if instead of being in an industrial building in Ap Lei Chau – which looks amazing by the way with our own terrace overlooking Lamma Island – we could be in the heart of the city so that everyone can enjoy and share our passion for wine, food, music, art and life.

I started dreaming and this is how the idea of turning a hotel lobby into a winery came up. Yes you read well, a lobby into a winery! Here is how we propose to break a few rules and reinvent the hotel lobby concept:

  • Create a completely new sense of arrival with guests stepping into an active production facility (behind glass windows) where they can see – probably for the first time – wine being made in real time.
  • Acquire a unique competitive edge with a story everyone – including media – will want to hear (our Hong Kong winery receives 2-3 media inquiries daily).
  • Turn your lobby into one of the most interesting venues in town for a private party, corporate function or intimate evening of entertainment.
  • Engage with your community by organizing a variety of live performances and cultural activities, wine tasting seminars and winemaking classes.
  • Enrich your hotel reward program with great benefits: make your own private-label wine, etc.
  • Become instantly the preferred hotel for weddings with private label wines made at the hotel and one of the best settings for wedding pictures.
  • Generate revenue from ‘dead’ hotel space by turning your lobby into a production facility for wine to be sold at the hotel and around town.

What do you think? Would you like an 8th Estate Winery at your local hotel?

INTERVIEW: Dr Amy Chan on Cultural Tourism, Hong Kong and more

I met Dr Amy Chan on 20th August on the day of the Hungry Ghost Festival and we had a good chat about Cultural Tourism, Chinese tourists and Hong Kong as a destination. Here are a few quotes I like:

“The Mainland Chinese have skipped a lot of things in our consumer society; even with tourism it’s the same.”

“If you want to see some colonial architecture you can go to Macau. If you want to see Chinese culture without having to speak Chinese you can go to Singapore. And if you want to go shopping you can go to Bangkok.”

“We have to find what Hong Kong values are still attractive, still distinctive and how we can package that and sell it as tourism product.”

Dr Chan Kit-sze Amy is Associate Professor at the Shue Yan University in Hong Kong and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where she teaches “The Culture of Travel and the Travel of Culture”. She holds a PhD in Intercultural Studies from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The Future of Wanchai

Today I went to shoot my first video at the Hong Kong Arts Centre for their monthly Arts Experience lunch session.

This emotional performance mixes storytelling and live music to send one simple message: the future of Wanchai is yours…

PS: sorry for the transitions, I still have to improve my editing skills!