Hong Kong is overcrowded, often smoggy, clogged with traffic and nobody there gives a damn about the environment. Right?
Wrong actually. As travellers’ enthusiasm for green products and services grows unabated, more and more hotel and meetings facility operators in this beehive of a city are embracing environmental credentials to meet the expectations of MICE visitors – and help give the seven-a-half million inhabitants a vision of a sustainable future.
The autonomous Chinese territory is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Yet, in addition to its other virtues, more local operators are promoting the fact that about three-quarters of it is countryside, with easily accessible walking trails and islands.
“Not far from the commercial district, as close as a five-minute cab ride, visitors can enjoy the silence of a country trail or take in the views of the harbour from a ferry to an outlying island,” says Gregory So Kam-leung, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, writing in the South China Morning Post recently. “Few cities have dense urban and commercial districts within such easy reach of harbour and hillsides.”
One hotel property that’s proud of its sustainability credentials is the four-star Eaton, in the city’s Kowloon area to the north of Victoria Harbour. Last year it won a gold award in the Hong Kong Awards for Environmental Excellence (and other accolades), in recognition of its efforts to cut waste and source sustainable food.
Why? With 465 guest rooms and ten meetings and events venues, the Eaton has recognised that it makes good business (its occupancy rate is typically 80% to 90%) and environmental sense to make genuine efforts to be sustainable.
One noteworthy achievement is its investment in a drinking water purification system that removes bugs from H2O and allows glass bottles to be sterilised, refilled and reused and sealed in guest bedrooms. It’s already helped the hotel eliminate the use and disposal of 350,000 plastic bottles a year, says Environmental Officer Katrina Cheng (pictured below, right).
“Waste in a small territory like Hong Kong [1,100 square kilometres] is a big concern,” says Katrina. “It’s becoming an issue for hotel guests and MICE clients in particular expect us to acknowledge and do something about it.”
Shark’s fin soup, which represents a growing environmental issue across Asia, has been removed from the Eaton’s menus, which Katrina acknowledges has had some impact on the F&B business, but “it’s an important step for us”.
The hotel gets its seafood from sources that are reliably certified as sustainable and insists on buying Fair Trade products wherever possible. These feature in its “Green Meetings” package, offered standard with no premium, which includes “low-carbon menus,” “Fair Trade coffee breaks,” waste recycling and so on.
The list doesn’t end there. The hotel provides refillable dispensers in bathrooms, LED lighting, acoustic wall panels in bedrooms made from recycled materials and “low-carbon dining options”. Each year 300 staff volunteer for a beach clean-up day and other community service activities. “We all take it very seriously,” says Katrina.
In addition to pushing its green credentials, the hotel seeks to add value to keep customers coming back, says Public Relations and Communications Manager Erica Chan (pictured above, left). Residents can enjoy complimentary walking tours of local shopping precincts like Temple Street and the Jade Market, take a free daily tai chi class and use on-the-house smartphones in every bedroom offering free mobile data, local calls and international calls to selected countries, says Erica.
There’s a roof-top outdoor pool and well-equipped gym, and an executive lounge arrangement, the “E Club,” aimed primarily at the business tourist sector, six restaurants and an alfresco bar. The E-Club guests are served free beers all day, free cocktails and canapes in the evenings, and can take their breakfast at an exclusive buffet in the lounge.
“We’re in a great location three minutes’ walk from the Jordan subway station in Kowloon, which tends to offer a more authentic Hong Kong experience than Hong Kong Island which is more commercialised,” says Erica.
Ten function facilities
The ten function rooms include three ballrooms, one of which can accommodate up to 500. The hotel’s events business is roughly split between local companies and delegates from southeast Asian countries – Singapore in particular – as well as Australia and the UK, says Erica.
“We deal with a lot of pharmaceutical companies. They can be demanding customers but we like that; it’s a challenge and keeps everyone sharp.”
Though some critics of Hong Kong point to higher room rates than those in other southeast Asian nations like Cambodia and Vietnam, there’s much to recommend it, especially for shorter (two- to three-day) events, observe Erica Chan and Katrina Cheng.
As a business, financial and trading centre, Hong Kong is accessible to about half the world’s population via a flight of five hours or less. The public transport system is cheap and one of the best in Asia. Entry is hassle-free, with visa-free access for about 170 countries.
And finding the right venues at the right price is not difficult. Hong Kong has some 74,000 hotel rooms and tourism authorities expect another 10,000 to come on stream by 2017. That may explain why the number of overnight MICE visitors increased from 1.2 million in 2009 to 1.8 million in 2014, even though leisure tourism numbers have declined slightly in recent months.
Another drawcard, according to local journalist Yonden Lhatoo, writing in the South China Morning Post, is that Hong Kong is the safest city in the world, with a good, corruption-free police force. “The can-do spirit is for real,” he says.
Meetings packages from HKD 350 a day
Meetings packages at the Eaton Hotel including coffee breaks, break-out facilities, lunch and AV equipment start from around HKD 350 (USD 45) a day and the rack rate for the rooms is around USD 200.
For more information, go to hongkong.eatonhotels.com.