Diamond traders have raised concerns ahead of next month’s Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair, as mass protests have caused chaos and dented local demand.
The show will still take place as planned, organizers Informa Markets confirmed to Rapaport News Friday. However, access to the venues is currently difficult, according to dealers, who are pinning their hopes on unrest in the city receding by the time the event begins on September 16.
“You don’t know where to go in Hong Kong right now,” said Vincent Yiu, director of Hong Kong-based Brilliant Trading Company, which plans to exhibit at the fair. “There are protesters literally in all areas. If it happened today, I don’t think the show would be good.” The riots are likely to calm down when protesters return to school and university in September, he added.
Anti-government demonstrations began in June, and have developed into large-scale civil disobedience across the city center, including near the show venues.
Hong Kong International Airport suspended departures for periods of Monday and Tuesday, after campaigners held a sit-in lasting several days. The site, as well as being the main entry point for visitors, is located next to AsiaWorld-Expo, where the loose-diamond exhibition will run from September 16 to 20.
Activists and police officers have also clashed near the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre in the Wan Chai area, which will host the jewelry section of the show from September 18 to 22.
“The impact [of the protests] is very, very negative,” said Ephraim Zion, founder of Hong Kong-based high-end jeweler Dehres. “Sentiment is very, very bad. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve already been informed by a few clients that they’re not coming [to the exhibition]. The show will happen no matter what, [but] I expect very few people to come.”
Zion said he wouldn’t attend the show if it were today, but expects the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to take action if the protests continue for much longer. Meanwhile, sales at his domestic retail clients have “plummeted,” as the unrest has forced stores to shut, Zion added. “There is some demand from overseas, but locally, it’s dead,” he explained.
The riots have disrupted the municipality’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR), with videos appearing on the internet showing violence inside underground stations. The US State Department raised its travel warning for Hong Kong to level two last week, urging visitors to “exercise increased caution” due to civil unrest.
“We recognize the challenges we face given the recent public incidents in Hong Kong, but rest assured we have prepared — and are constantly updating and adjusting — a comprehensive contingency plan in partnership and in close coordination with all industry stakeholders,” a spokesperson for Informa said.
The procedures cover “virtually every scenario during the different phases of our show,” explained Informa, which has operated the event since acquiring UBM, the former owner, last year. The plans were already in place for the June edition of the fair, a smaller event, which “went off without a hitch,” the company added.
The September exhibition, a key event for trading goods ahead of the holiday season, comes amid generally weak consumer demand in greater China. Local jewelry sales have declined due to Beijing’s tariff dispute with the US, with the protests further fueling the downturn. The Chinese yuan has depreciated 2.6% against the Hong Kong dollar since January 1, reducing the spending power of tourists visiting from the mainland.
“The last three quarters [have] been quite challenging for the industry, and this is the very reason why exhibitors, buyers and stakeholders across the entire business spectrum are fully engaged to get the most out of the September fair,” Informa added.