Beagle visited Hong Kong last week to catch up with clients and meet some new people at The Great Festival of Innovation – A four day trade jamboree organized (brilliantly) by the Department of International Trade.
As Beagle’s man visiting Hong Kong last week I thought it might be useful to highlight some of the most memorable take-aways from the first two days at the Asia Hong Kong Centre in the heart of Hong Kong Island.
1. BRITAIN IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS – THE BELT & ROAD INITIATIVE
The Rt Hon Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade opened proceedings with a Keynote speech about the historic ties between the UK and Hong Kong, gateway to Asia for British businesses looking to export. The opening remarks also looked to the present and future of Anglo Chinese relations as we prepare to leave the EU. There was a lot of excitement in the Jockey Club Hall particularly around the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). From our understanding the BRI is a widening of the Silk Trade Routes from China west into Eurasia and EMEA, one of the largest infrastructure and investment mega-projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, equivalent to 65% of the world's population and 40% of the global GDP as of 2017. Clearly there will be massive opportunities around this century long programme of works and Hong Kong as always will play a huge part in connecting UK companies with the work ahead.
Fox was understandably upbeat about the state of the UK economy as we approach Brexit highlighting the UK’s position as a global finance hub and a highly desirable place to do business for Asian partners and beyond. The UK’s rule of law, (relative) economic stability, and world class IP Protection were held up as beacons of hope for the UK in the years ahead. FinTech was championed as a primed example of this. Investment into UK Fintech is now larger than France, Germany, Spain & Ireland, combined: Something to shout about.
2. TOM KERRIDGE MASTER CLASS
The entire event was catered by superstar Chefs Tom Kerridge and Tom Aitken. (No bad biscuits and urn coffee here). But they did more than great Asian Fusion food and cocktails; they also held some fascinating talks. Tom Kerridge is taking a huge interest in how the core elements of Western and Asian cooking are actually quite similar. He explained how food can be broken down into the basics of taste and texture, acidity & crunch. Tempura Fish and Fish ‘n Chips are not so very different. Salt n Soy, and so on. His analogy for the development of international cuisine is that it’s all an onion, but one where new layers of taste and experience and being added over time.
3. FINTECH FUTURES
This session picked up on the Keynote Speech at the start of the day. Vivek Ramachandran, Global Head of Growth & Innovation at HSBC, made some insightful remarks about how the big banks are now embracing the innovators and disruptors of financial services around the world. Western members of the audience heard how AliPay and WeChat Pay are storming China and that soon young Chinese people will have no memory of paying via traditional cards and that cash is surely on the way out. Although the Royal Mint makes a lot of the coinage and notes for international clients so let’s hope cash remains king at least for cab rides in Hong Kong, for a while longer.
Where start-ups like Revolut were once looked on with anxiety by big banks, they are now being incubated and nurtured. This is all moving so fast that 20 years from now today’s innovators will be the establishment and so it will roll on.
4. SENSORY FUTURES
This was one of Beagle’s favourite seminars of the week. Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr, curators of spectacular culinary events, moderated the session with three guests to represent the senses: Michelin Star chef Andrew Wong, for taste; Perfumer Roja Dove for smell and acoustics guru Jack Oclee-Brown from KEF Audio for hearing. (No one for vision though or touch, but those crossed into discussions).
Roja, who can identify 800 different perfumes and 3000 raw materials by smell, told us this is the oldest and most primal of our senses and arguably the most evocative. In addition to his perfume house, Roja now works on sensory design for brands like Rolls Royce and top hotels.
Sam talked about trying to use lightning as a source for cooking. He once set up an experiment at a lightning research lab in the UK where they simulate X thousand volts to test aircraft and lightning conductors. The idea was to cook a piece of steak with lightning. Apparently it worked but tasted metallic, like a battery.
Jack played us a few audio samples to trigger memory and emotion. One clip tricked the ear into hearing a rising pitch that seemed to rise indefinitely. It made the room squirm and reminded me of that screeching noise in the Ipcress File (Michael Caine). In fact the sample was used in the war epic Dunkirk, released last year.
5. THE FUTURE OF TRAVEL
The earth’s population is only going one place, up and into mega cities. The urban trend is inevitable, so we need to look at ways to decongest our streets, and make living in cities less crowded and polluted places to be. The session was moderated with charm, by Frederick Ma Si-Hang of the MTR Corporation. If you have ever been to Hong Kong and ridden the MTR (Tube) there you will know it’s where public transport dies and goes to heaven. Air con throughout, apologies in clear English and Cantonese if a train is 10 seconds late, beautiful larger stations of clean marble and great retail. I digress…We also had Paul Priestman from Priestman Goode, the future proof design consultancy. Paul presented a drone vision that looked like flocks of gentle birds moving around cities making personal deliveries to the window of your highrise apartment. Some of the audience feedback questioned, rightly, the worries around a dystopian future where we are all connected digitally but we are losing our human interaction. We will lose our connection with the pizza guy and so on. A valid concern, but already we are seeing a lot of entrepreneurs tapping into the “Unplugged” movement for holidays, corporate training, and other lifestyle experiences where switching off and immersing in nature and socializing are the focus. Millenials are now spending more on real world experiences than clothes, for the first time. So hopefully we can maintain a balance, and embrace a cleaner, congestion free, plastic free (Hong Kong needs to work on that) future city.
This is Beagle’s man in Hong Kong, signing off, and flying back to London HQ.