According to the Index of Economic Freedom produced by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong has been the world's freest economy for the last 12 consecutive years. Still, though, the role of Invest Hong Kong in attracting investment and promoting the city's business advantages should never be considered easy.
"International exposure like that always helps, but there is a lot of hard work involved in convincing key industry players from around the world that Hong Kong is the place for them to do business," says Wendy Wong, the organisation's head of tourism and entertainment. Working in one of the priority sectors, Ms Wong is responsible for developing or facilitating projects related to new tourist attractions, theme parks, cruise liners, travel agents, food and beverage groups, and other businesses in the leisure industry.
While she focuses on tourism and entertainment, various colleagues look after the interests of potential overseas investors in sectors such as IT, financial services, retail and transportation. "We conduct investment promotion (IP) visits around the world and liaise with multinationals and major industry players within the specific sector," Ms Wong explains. Even those first steps require detailed research and exhaustive preparatory work. One reason is that large-scale tourism development projects will involve nearly every government department, let alone the likelihood of numerous overseas contacts with varying priorities and requirements.
"There will be many issues to discuss and the process can be very complex," she says. "For example, we may need to collaborate with various parties on matters related to land supply, environmental protection, traffic control, utility supply, licensing and many more."
As one of the first recruits to join Invest Hong Kong, Ms Wong now has extensive experience in developing projects with both the hotel and tourism industries. Her team of four is likely to be handling dozens of ongoing projects at any one time and, though the workload is heavy, she still gets immense satisfaction from the job. "Each member of the team takes care of specific sub-sectors such as hotels, travel agents, entertainment centres, food and beverage, or live entertainment," she says. "We make great efforts to try and ensure that every project works out."
An important part of this is to keep in close contact with potential investors and get them to visit Hong Kong. "We also participate selectively in business events, which give the opportunity to utilise our creativity as well as our people skills," Ms Wong notes. With so much going on, a typical day might include a meeting the CEO of a major US or Japanese company, liaising with other government departments, and sounding out possible business partners in Hong Kong.
"The exposure is great and so are the networking opportunities," says Ms Wong. "With the opening of China, the mainland has become another major market for us to conduct IP visits."
Face the challenge
Despite Invest Hong Kong's best efforts, some companies may choose to postpone their business plans because of the general business climate or other unforeseen factors. During SARS, for example, some proposals unfortunately had to be postponed. However, Ms Wong points out that the success rate of turning live projects into completed projects is high.
The fact that each project has different requirements and moves at a different pace is simply part of the challenge. Often, the first step, after completing the necessary background research, is to explain Hong Kong's business environment to the interested parties and outline the appropriate assistance that can be given during the investment process.
Launching a concept unfamiliar in Hong Kong or a new brand requires very close attention. The process will involve extensive consultations. In some cases, Ms Wong may need to identify and introduce a strategic partner, find a suitable business location, and deal with licences, work permits for overseas staff and local recruitment issues. "We may even need to provide assistance with the companies' public relations activities," she says.
When recruiting, Invest Hong Kong understandably looks for high-calibre professionals. They should be fluent in English, Cantonese and Putonghua, while proficiency in other languages such as Japanese or German is a plus. Candidates should also have international exposure and experience in account relationship management.