Jacqueline Vong Answers Richard Highfield's Comments on her East Meets West. Where are we going from here?
I am excited to see a healthy amount of debate and reflection given to my op-ed in the Bloom Report. With the upmost respect to my UK colleague, I would like to address the points of Mr. Highfield’s rebuttal. I stand by my op-ed conclusion that there will be a shift of prominence from Hong Kong into Shenzhen. It was with a heavy heart I proposed such a dramatic change however, both my experiences and extensive research informed this perspective.
The violent police response to the protests from last year have caused damage to several areas forcing shops, restaurants and formerly resilient companies to be boarded up or close down. Specifically, within the areas that Mr. Highfield highlighted, the City Super grocery store in Harbor City as well as the luxury goods store Valentino from Canton Road of Tsim Sha Tsui were either damaged or temporarily closed as a result of these protests. The Wanchai Convention Center where toy exhibitors gathered, was the main hub for protests and clashes. I saw the rubble of damaged cobblestone streets and many areas cordoned off; the damage was unimaginable as I once considered Hong Kong to be one of the safest cities in the world. This upheaval, coupled with the impact of a global pandemic and the implementation of a National Security Law which has limited freedoms of individuals, collectively has brought tourism and the economy to a standstill.
I also wish to be very clear; I absolutely love Hong Kong and consider it one of the most magical places in the world. I enjoyed many fruitful years living in Hong Kong, managing teams based both in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. I am saddened to see how much it has changed since I returned to Canada in 2016. I continue to work with teams in Hong Kong and Mainland with my own company, Playology International among other clients globally in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Given my diverse portfolio and decades of industry experience in various markets throughout the world, I am perplexed at Mr. Highfield’s suggestion I should “study the wider core of the toy business.” I was an active member in various trade organizations such as Hong Kong Toy Council and have been a speaker at both HKTDC events and various China toy fairs. I also started the chapter of Women in Toys in Asia out of Hong Kong so I feel strongly I do have both on the ground experience and a deep understanding of the complexities and dynamics of local China and Hong Kong relations. Such personal attacks are not productive and frankly, hinder the development of our industry. During times of such challenge we all are currently enduring, we as an industry must come together, to collaborate, and to recognize new opportunities. This was my motivation for the original piece, to shed light on the changes in our landscape in effort to identify such opportunities that hopefully will strengthen our industry as a whole.
I will now address the dangerous, mystifying suggestion that Shenzhen is not ready to host Westerners. In this global climate such divisive language is not only damaging to our profession, but to society as a whole.
In January 2020, when the Hong Kong toy fair took place, there were several international retailers who were already hosting meetings in Shenzhen such as Walmart, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Big Lots, Kmart Australia to name a few.
Travel is accessible via Shenzhen’s international airport, and there are transit visa exemptions for 24, 48 and 144 hours, as well as visa on arrivals services that can help you process quickly if one didn’t plan in advance. The diversity of travel options also appeals to those who wish to remain in Hong Kong. Since Shenzhen is the bordering city to Hong Kong, the newly constructed high-speed bullet train offers travel to and from within 15-20 minutes, or one can choose a more traditional way to get there by metro, ferry, coach bus or car. In 2018, the Lonely Planet Publications ranked Shenzhen to be second on the list of best destinations across the globe Shenzhen is home to world class companies, hotel chains and top restaurants within its city limits. In November 2019, Shenzhen World opened phase 1. This is one of the city’s latest business developments and it will be the largest exhibition and convention centers in the world, 70% larger than Nuremberg’s Spielwarenmesse convention center and New York’s Javits Center with top smart technology and premiere LEED certified green standards in Shenzhen World. For more about this, read my latest article in Global Toy News
Thank you, Mr. Highfield, for the challenge. Hong Kong is not the same place we once knew and with the COVID pandemic and other developments, we have to re-look at our industry and some of the traditional practises to consider alternatives that would make sense for the future. If the day arrives that we need to travel to Shenzhen, I would be happy to make introductions to my China visa agent and send Mr. Highfield my top recommendations for restaurants and hotels.