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Fit for Purpose: Hong Kong's New Sports Expo Excites Healthy Interest

The inaugural HKTDC Hong Kong Sports and Leisure Expo proved a success with attendees and exhibitors alike, with many welcoming the chance to turn the spotlight on to Asia's fast-growing market for healthy living and fitness.

Photo: On a mission to make fitness sexy: FitForFem takes to the stage at the Sports and Leisure Expo
On a mission to make fitness sexy: FitForFem takes to the stage at the Sports and Leisure Expo.
Photo: On a mission to make fitness sexy: FitForFem takes to the stage at the Sports and Leisure Expo
On a mission to make fitness sexy: FitForFem takes to the stage at the Sports and Leisure Expo.

The Hong Kong Sports and Leisure Expo made its debut riding on the coattails of one of the city's longest-established events – the Hong Kong Book Fair. Although, this year at least, it lacked the scale and promotional heft of its HKTDC stable mate, it certainly wasn't short on ambition. In fact, the feeling across the show floor was that the 2017 event may well just be the precursor to something far bigger and much grander.

Across the course of the five-day event, some 90 exhibitors and 130 brands from a variety of countries and territories, including Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, Japan and South Korea, were all on hand. All of them were understandably keen to showcase their latest offerings within the sports and leisure sector, whether they were innovative new products or refreshingly different services.

While the younger attendees queued to take on the challenge of the Just Climb 3.9-metre bouldering wall, their responsible adults took the opportunity to refine their golf swing or indulge in a little pool table soccer or shuffleboard. Should all this have proved to be too strenuous, there was also the opportunity to catch your breath at one of the show's 40 on-site events, which included interviews with local sporting celebrities and catwalk displays of active wear apparel.

For many attendees, the launch of the event was a timely one. While Hong Kong is not necessarily best known for medalling at international track and field events, neither is it permanently residing on the subs' bench, alongside such legendary sporting no-hopers as Mali and Monaco. It was, after all, an Olympic Games host city back in 2008 and can also boast of being the home of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, arguably the world's most profitable sporting organisation.

In order to address any perceived shortcomings with regard its citizens' overall fitness and well-being, the city's powers that be have made promoting sport a priority since the turn of the millennium. One keen participant in this government-backed initiative is Tracy Lai, Sports Programmes and Communications Manager for the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong Jockey Club Mapperthon Community Action Project, a charity dedicated to introducing people to the benefits of a more sporting lifestyle.

Expanding on the project's aims, she said: "Our overall drive idea is to promote sport for life. We believe that, ideally, participating in sport should become a habit. In order to achieve this, we identify an appropriate community and then start working with members of that community across a broad age range, encouraging them all to take up sports.

"One of most successful initiatives has been Sportovation, a programme that incentivises participants into burning off calories in exchange for cash. If any young person, for instance, burns of 1,000 kilocalories of energy as part of a training regime, this could then be converted into, say, HK$40, which could be spent as they see fit on daily necessities, stationery or toys. We also encourage the use of fitness-tracker wristbands as a way for programme participants to evaluate their performance and achievements."

As proof of the programme's effectiveness, a number of Mapperthon graduates staged one of the expo's livelier performances, with several teams competing in a taspont tournament, a high-impact Japanese take on traditional tennis. Should such energetic pastimes fail to appeal, elsewhere at the event a relatively low-impact activity could be found, one suitable for participants of all ages – callisthenics.

Photo: One for the kids: The ever-popular bouldering wall.
One for the kids: The ever-popular bouldering wall.
Photo: One for the kids: The ever-popular bouldering wall.
One for the kids: The ever-popular bouldering wall.
Photo: One for the dads: The less popular pool football.
One for the dads: The less popular pool football.
Photo: One for the dads: The less popular pool football.
One for the dads: The less popular pool football.

Originating in the 19th century, callisthenics' blend of rhythmic stretching and flexing exercise has won a new audience of late as one of the key elements of a street workout, a communal keep-fit activity that first emerged in New York several years ago. One of the modern masters of callisthenics is Mok Ho Yin, who was at the expo to guide his street workout team through a demo of the required techniques in the Sports Arena.

Summarising the appeal of his chosen training technique, Mok, who is regularly called upon to demonstrate the discipline in places as far afield as Dubai and Thailand, said: "The beauty of callisthenics is that practitioners don't have to go to the gym and pay expensive membership fees in order to stay in shape."

Among the most high-profile exhibitors at this maiden event was the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG), the 57-year-old charity that is now the city's largest youth-services organisation. Over in the central area of the Grand Hall, the charity staged a demonstration of just a few of the activities it offers, including cross-fit trials, canoe challenges and a kinetic bike generator challenge.

Assessing the opportunities that Hong Kong's newest expo opens up, Terrence Zee, a Sports Manager with the HKFYG, said: "This has been the perfect platform for us to showcase our work. It has also been a golden opportunity to provide information about our sports and leisure programmes to many residents of the city."

While government organisations altruistically seeking to make Hong Kong a sportier city proved to be a big feature of the expo, there were also plenty of businesses in attendance, all of them intent on making a healthy profit from the fitness sector. On such exhibitor was ACP Medics, a Kowloon-based supplier of rehabilitation and remedial products, including knee and hand joint exercisers, fitness equipment and vibrating massage tools.

Outlining why the company had chosen to attend the expo, Sales Manager Anthony Choy said: "We're here to seed interest in our products and we've already connected with several local sports enthusiasts and buyers.

"Overall, given it's the first such expo, it has exceeded our expectations. For the future, I hope it retains its local focus and doesn't get hijacked by the international mega-brands."

Choy, though, was in something of a minority, with the majority of exhibitors keen to see the event expand and attract the key players from around the world. Voicing the sentiments of many, Ken Chu, a Director of Nutri Muscle Lab, a nutritional supplements distributor based in Hong Kong's Central district, said: "Compared with the West, Hong Kong is only just catching on to the benefits of sport. It's a growing market, though, and clearly has huge potential. So, as far as I am concerned, the bigger this expo gets the better."

Chu's view that Hong Kong is getting ever sportier was shared by Crystal Ng, Founder and Chief Fitness Coach of FitForFem, a Hong Kong-based supplier of women's gym outfits and health-improvement programmes. Citing her own experience as evidence, she said: "Active wear has now become pretty much a fashion statement in this city. For my part, once I've finished working out, I just slip on a pair of high heels and I'm good to go.

"In line with that, it would be good to see this event expand and bring in some of the bigger brands – Nike and Adidas, as well as the major gym-equipment suppliers. In the end it would benefit everyone, expanding the market and putting the spotlight on the sporting-goods sector."

Understandably, expansion was also on the mind of the event's organisers, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. Addressing the plans already in place for the 2018 follow-up event, Sam Ho, an Assistant Media and Public Affairs Manager with the Council, said: "We certainly hope that the expo will grow, attracting an increasing number of exhibitors and brands from Hong Kong and all around the world."

Photo: Mental exercises: Even the brain got at workout at Hong Kong’s inaugural Sports and Leisure Expo.
Mental exercises: Even the brain got at workout at Hong Kong's inaugural Sports and Leisure Expo.
Photo: Mental exercises: Even the brain got at workout at Hong Kong’s inaugural Sports and Leisure Expo.
Mental exercises: Even the brain got at workout at Hong Kong's inaugural Sports and Leisure Expo.

The 2017 HKTDC Hong Kong Sports and Leisure Expo took place from 21-25 July 2017 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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