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Updated: Jul 12

It was interesting though not exactly a surprise to read an entire page in the South China Morning Post on Thursday devoted to mentioning how the lights have dimmed rather quickly to what was branded “Night Vibes”.

The headline: “The party is over for‘Night Vibes’ campaign”, with the subhead reading “Many are saying the initiative to reboot the city’s nightlife after three years of pandemic restrictions has failed to deliver, raising questions of competence and commitment”.

As always when writing about “entertainment” and nightlife in Hong Kong, businessman Allan Zeman was asked for his opinions about the marketing efforts for the city, and did the best he could to say something without saying much.

Maybe he knows what many of us know and which is that maybe we’re too far down the road to change lanes, and how it’s all a little too late?

There’s a touch of what’s going on in America to these mistakes in Hong Kong as to whether 81-year old Joe Biden who was nominated as the Democratic Party presidential nominee, and are now trying to get him out after a less than “energetic” performance in the recent debate with Donald Trump.

They didn’t see this coming? They didn’t do the maths as to whether Biden could last four years IF he were to win? And if Biden is to pull out the race, then what?

In its much smaller way, it’s not unlike seeing what the Hong Kong government has approved for the city and used the taxpayers’ money to fund this and that- and which have now, well, flopped.

The problem is that before keeling over, was a blueprint for success out and a short to mid term strategy- but a strategy for what?

More one-off ideas and more and more coupons and vouchers to feed greed and with zero sustainability?

Of COURSE there has been incompetence and maybe even nepotism involved in “rebooting” Hong Kong as this initial “strategy” started with millions spent producing the hokey “Hello Hong Kong” campaign.

This set the mood for everything that has followed.

It was a flawed strategy that its audience didn’t believe in and buy into, and was, to be very blunt, laughed off as “old and corny”.

If this campaign was meant to “reboot” Hong Kong, it only succeeded in making the city look rather bland and boring. And corny.

In many ways, it was something as sad to watch as the embarrassing debate between those two old codgers in American politics propped up by self interest groups.

As for the thoughts on moving forward attributed to Mr Zeman about the need for a couple of “mega” events in Hong Kong every month, and mentioning Singapore winning the exclusive rights to stage the Eras Tour in Asia by Taylor Swift, what exactly did Singapore “win” or gain in a world where things happen and disappear almost overnight?

Today’s consumer is still trying to understand life and what’s needed to survive in the new abnormal.

What we’re all looking for in our own ways is a certain sustainability and stability.

Playing mental hopscotch by introducing random and often tacky odds and ends only add to the tsunami of online clutter that has entered and been vaccinated into our lives.

Personally, I would rather have the peace and quiet to enjoy my favourite dish of Hainan Chicken Rice and make the time to catch up with close friends rather than being bombarded with random “things”, most of which are not necessary. 

Less has always been more. It’s probably why so many have taken up different forms of meditation and yoga to try and have more clarity in their lives.

Hong Kong needs to have more of these “moments” along with CAREFULLY chosen and scheduled and funded events. 

Those “big circus” events can wait as we’re still very much in a post pandemic haze and looking for Hope- and ongoing events unique to Hong Kong that will make us smile again. 

If we smile, the world smiles with us and we can build from here and see what’s really working instead of being offered a buffet that has no relevance to anyone.

This isn’t the time to think that one can pick up the pieces and continue as if nothing has happened and tourists will rush back to the city.

Everything and more has happened and many of us are still processing everything. 

It’s not, Back to the Future, Marty.

Though not here to hand out more free ideas, perhaps there’s something to learn from how the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday brand first came together and transcended the gambling driven and one dimensional world of horse racing.

This happened without overthinking and when casually asked around twelve years ago by Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, whether I might be interested in taking something called the Beer Garden at the Happy Valley racecourse, and make it a meeting place for a young demographic. 

This wasn’t exactly brain surgery. 

Anything was better than what was there under the name Sassy Wednesday and advertising and marketing that looked like something for an escort club in Macau. 

Brought in were themed nights, ‘live’ music, applying a makeover to one of the existing venues and targeting that very international- mainly Francophiles in their late to early thirties- and entrepreneurial community who had turned the area called Sheung Wan into something cool, hip and compelling.

To some of us, this was our Little Paris and we loved visiting it, learning from what was happening there, and watching it grow.

Living at the time up on neighbouring High Street with my then girlfriend- a great Dane and architect in her late thirties from Copenhagen- we got to know this area. 

We heard its heartbeat and knew this was not another Lan Kwai Fong or Wanchai.

We also saw how this community had created its own field of dreams comprising fashion boutiques, restaurants, clubs, an online radio station, art galleries and a positive new vibe in Hong Kong.

Everything had a certain savoire faire and what was re-christened Happy Wednesday was created for largely this group of consumers- and inspired by them.

If they made the effort to come out to where the horses ran and which became an on course and fledgling online meeting place, magic might happen. And it did.

Knowing friends from this community in the fashion and entertainment world, we gave them a new platform at the Beer Garden and they were happy to become our “street” marketing team. 

Of course, then down came a spider along with everything that locked down the world for about three years and changed thinking forever. 

Hong Kong stopped being “Asia’s world city” and were subjected to around six years of meandering leadership from the confused housewife Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

More recently, the job of “resurrecting” the city has seemingly been given to those bureaucrats who think they know what advertising and marketing should look like and, apparently, approving whatever comes across their table. 

Allan Zeman describes these efforts as “haphazard”. He’s being kind. These efforts show inexperience and ineptitude and ignorance and arrogance which has seen a frightening lowering of standards in every aspect of life in Hong Kong and with definitely zero “night vibes”. 

Whatever is needed is not out there. 

Yesterday at the last night race meeting at Happy Valley for this season resembled a cheap nightclub, where the hordes clamoured for freebie plushies and a DJ scratched around in the Beer Garden.

It showed a tackiness that was never part of the Hong Kong DNA or what was once the Happy Wednesday brand created for the HKJC.

This was Fugly Wednesday with nothing cool or had style in equally fugly and downgraded Hong Kong.

Today’s Hong Kong has no product personality, and efforts to attract tourism appear to have, ironically, made many still in the city take in nearby Shenzhen where they spend whatever money they might have before returning home. 

Makes sense?

As for “attracting tourists”, who exactly are these and where from? 

From what I know, friends in Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and other Western countries give Hong Kong a wide berth- as do quite a number of big name artists from the entertainment world.


There are a stampede of elephants in the room that are not being addressed- the main one being an invisible fear of entering somewhere they don’t need to visit- and where they believe that they won’t be welcome.

Think about this and then think about it again. 

What’s going to change their minds? 

What those in charge who are giving Hong Kong so much of nothing must do is admit that nothing much is working. 

Then ask themselves why standards of almost everything has nosedived and whether this might have to do with not having pride in what Hong Kong is today- cheap- and unattractive and irrelevant for these times? 

How have cornball campaigns like “Hello Hong Kong” and “Thank You Hong Kong”, Chubby Hearts and other bibs and bobs like handing out more and more vouchers and the usual light shows, drone shows and good old fireworks displays helped create sustainability?

Is any of this going to have those from overseas jump onto a plane and take a 7-9 hour flight to Hong Kong? 

Why, when in Asia, other than Singapore, there’s the inexpensive attractions of Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and elsewhere to explore with their wonderful beaches, unique cuisine and happy welcoming people?

The main problem is that it’s been a long and hard fall for Hong Kong from once having been at the top of the mountain. 

Where to now?

As told to many, learned from my mentor in advertising Keith Reinhard all those years ago is how the technique and technology is never the idea and the need by consumers to have an emotional attachment with a product.

Hong Kong is a brand and a product. Or at least it was. 

Remember what it was? And its style and entertainment value and brave entrepreneurship?

With this in mind, what’s the emotional attachment a longtime Hong Kong Belonger like myself might have for what has been my home for over fifty years?

I have no idea.

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