Jay Foreman, President, and CEO of Basic Fun is visiting Hong Kong for the first time in almost three years. A lot has changed since then, and Jay will update us on his experiences while in Hong Kong.
Well heading to Hong Kong for the first time in 34 months on the evening of the 5th of October. I broke the Yom Kippur fast on Qatar Airways! At least I was sure there was no pork on board! The trip started off a bit wonky as the app which was loaded onto my phone for entering HK wasn’t working for me. Luckily the ticket agent in Miami was able to download it and all my info on her phone and I got a QR code which was key. I even brought rapid test with me and did one right at the ticket desk so they felt comfortable I was all good.
It’s a long day of travel any way you go but going over the Atlantic through Doha Qatar adds eight hours onto a trip. The other way is on Cathay or others heading west over the Pacific. American Airlines is not flying to HK directly yet. However, flying in a Qatar Airlines Q Suite doesn’t suck and makes the first leg very enjoyable. The business first section of the plane was full but coach looked about half full to Doha. The flight is 14 hours and given that it took off at 8 pm I was able to get some decent sleep after dinner and a movie.
Once I got to Doha it was pretty easy, quick security line at the transfer desk and then right down into the amazing terminal. Tons of stores and interesting sites and a great lounge to attempt to kill an 8 hour layover! Fortunately there are so many knucks and crannies with unique areas to eat, sit, shower, drink that you can actually kill the time doing about 90 mins in a bunch of different areas. Then a bit of walking around the terminal and all the shops. Like in HK the Emirates do it right when it comes to retail. The shops are first class and done with very high end finishes and features.
The flight from Doha to Hong Kong is “only” about 8 hours. Typical lay flat business class seat which is narrower and not as nice or private as the Q Suite but still not bad. The flight attendants are always great on these flights and so is the food and drink. Bathrooms are always clean and a bit more room than an American Airlines bathroom. Landed on time in HK.
The airport in HK, which is typically crowded and bustling, was unusually dead. You get off the flight and walk down one of the long hallways towards the terminal and half way through the corridor is blocked with a desk and then a line of testing booths. It looked a bit intimidating from a distance as we haven’t really dealt on this level testing for well over a year or more in the states. Also, you are required to wear a mask as you get off the plane and at all times inside and out in Hong Kong which takes a bit of getting used to. The first stop is a check of your QR code which as long as you have it was quick and easy. Then you get a number and walk down to your designated testing booth. A fully gowned, masked and shielded staffer takes a nose and throat swab, gives you and lanyard with a bar code and sends you surprisingly quickly on your way. You don’t have to wait for the result. That will come electronically to your phone.
From there it was business as usually down the rest of the hall to the tram to the main terminal where unfortunately for me my special “E” channel permit had expired so I had to go to the normal check in channel. However, the good news was there was literally no one on line. I was the first one there and there were plenty of agents for the rest of the passengers slowly following behind me. As quick as ever through customs to baggage claim. I leave a full suitcase at my office in HK so I just had a rollie. The bags were already coming out from the flight. I bought a ticket on the airport express train which was coming in four minutes. In about 15 minutes or so I was at the TST station and walked quickly over to the taxi rank inside and took a cab to the Kowloon Shangri La, home away from home on Mody Road for many of us in the toy business. All in all it was about 45 mins from the time I walked off the plane until I got upstairs to the hotel reception lounge. Got into my comfortable room with a fabulous view and was finally back in Hong Kong appreciating the incredible harbor view from my hotel room window looking out at the Hong Kong side and the Wan Chai Convention center.
It was about 4 pm so after a quick refresh I went over to the office to see the team for an hour or two. It was great to see everyone after so long. So amazing and a tribute to them all that we could go almost three years without an in person visit and outside of the supply chain issues beyond anyone’s control things were very smooth sailing with production, shipping and administration. Truly amazing.
So the routine here is no quarantine in your room so you are free to go outside, go to your office, get coffee or food to go and even shop in stores. You can’t sit and eat at a bar or drink at a restaurant for the first five days. On the third day Sunday in my case I had to go to one of a number of testing sites to get tested. For those staying and working in TST there is one in Hung Hom which is less than 5 mins by Uber or Taxi. There was no wait for a test and it was easy in and out. I had to take another test on Tuesday and the final one on Thursday. So in the first five days there are four Covid swab tests you need to pass. Once you do that you are free!
Some overall observations: Everyone is required to wear a mask inside and out. Only if you are jogging or smoking can you have your mask off! Very 2020. Everyone is on board and dealing with it to help open things up and prevent any spread. I was five days after China’s National Day celebrating the 73rd anniversary of founding of the People’s Republic of China and you notice the deference as there were Chinese and HK flags flying everywhere. It’s clear Hong Kong is more and more becoming part of China each day. No police, no soldiers just the flags flying prominently but the end of the week the decorations were down and things looked as they usually do.
Here’s the big take away. Never in my 30+ years of coming to Hong Kong and I would guess never in the history of the city are there basically no mainland Chinese, no foreign tourists, very few foreign business people and fewer than ever ex patriots. Basically for better or worse, at least for the time being, Hong Kong is home to Hong Kongers! It’s very strange. No hustle and bustle as we’ve all come to know it. It’s actually peaceful in a very strange way. Most of the stores, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and hotels are still here. But when you look closer a lot of the smaller businesses, those in the alley’s or hotel arcades are gone or closed up. I’ll be heading around town to some of the hot spots like Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai and Harbor City in the next few days to get the night life vibe.
More to come as the days go by until I head out on the 21st.