Hong Kong: A Business Traveler-Friendly Destination

Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the February 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

A week ago I flew to Tucson, Ariz., for a meeting. Now I'm in Hong Kong, holed up in the club room on the 116th floor of the world's tallest hotel. I'm preparing for a conference while trying to resist the urge to stare out at the city's magnificent skyline and the mountains beyond. It's a formidable distraction.

It's safe to say Tucson and Hong Kong have little in common. One's a low-slung resort and university city in the Sonoran desert; the other a densely packed, multicultural island metropolis. Like so many other frequent travelers these days, I find my usual diet of domestic travel increasingly punctuated by international trips. Whether it's about opportunities or necessities, many of us are ranging farther and farther afield to make our living. So, it's Europe one week, Rochester the next. Tucson … then Hong Kong.

I've been to Asia before, but never here. As I scout the city, I can't help but compare it to my most recent destinations. And as places to do business, few measure up. I wish the U.S. Conference of Mayors would convene a meeting here on the Kowloon peninsula. Here's what they'd find:

Cheap, efficient public transportation. Not only rental cars are superfluous in Hong Kong; taxis and town cars are, too. The city's subway system is clean, fast and wonderfully efficient. Even top executives use it. Visitors can purchase an Octopus card and input as much as $999 Hong Kong dollars (about $128 U.S.), then get fare discounts. (The same card can also be used around town at restaurants, convenience stores, the Star Ferry, even to buy incense sticks at Taoist shrines.) And here's the crucial part: When you leave, any money remaining on the card is refunded to you.

Truly full-service hotels. Before roaming the streets to find a SIM card for my generic travel phone, I stopped at the Ritz-Carlton's concierge desk for advice. Turns out they have a stock of them available for purchase at the hotel. Within five minutes I was back in my room, e-mailing my associates my new local number. I'm leaving several of my bags behind at the Ritz when I take a three-day side trip to China, though I'll be checking in at the Mandarin Oriental across the harbor when I return. The two hotels have already coordinated their services to ensure the bags will be waiting at the Mandarin when I arrive.

Fast (good) food. Hong Kong has its share of McDonald's, but I can't imagine why. More than in any other city I've visited, meals here are quick, inexpensive, delicious and actually healthful, from the archetypal local noodle shops with roasted geese hanging in the windows to clean, enticing chains such as Fairwood and Hung Fook Tong, which serve soup, dumplings and more elaborate fare. Five U.S. dollars buys a huge, tasty lunch or late-night snack, a boon to businessmen on a budget or on the go. And unlike reasonable facsimiles in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and other North American cities, these eateries are not tucked away in hard-to-find ethnic enclaves, but easily accessible in shopping malls, subway stations and on busy streets in the heart of the business district. 

Downtown flight check-in. At two central subway stations, you can get your boarding pass and even check your bags. That means you can utilize the cheap, direct airport train carrying only hand luggage, an immensely preferable option to hauling suitcases down long corridors--or paying premium prices for an airport taxi.

Airlines like they used to be. When my flight from Hong Kong to Xiamen was delayed and I seemed destined to miss a connection, I walked off the plane to find a Dragonair agent holding a sign with my name on it. "Hurry up," she shouted, then set off down the hall like a quarter-miler. She pushed me through passport control, bullied our way through security and handed me off to another agent who was radioing ahead with our progress. I arrived at the gate two minutes past the scheduled departure time, but they'd held the plane. When's the last time United, Delta or American did that for you?

Knowing what I do now, I wish I'd tried to steer travel to Hong Kong years ago. Still, the city does have its drawbacks. Immigration lines are interminable. That Dragonair flight left the city four hours late, and when I flew the airline on the way back from China I was delayed two hours more. If you do find yourself in a taxi crossing the harbor, you could read most of a novel in the time it takes to get through the Kowloon tunnel. A ubiquitous yellowish haze sits over the harbor, the product of thousands of vehicles inching along all day and a smoke-belching Chinese factory upwind.

And the margarita I craved one night in a hotel bar? A major tactical error. For that, I'll take Tucson.

Essential Apps
From the planning stage to the return flight, these travel apps have you covered

Available for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, Nokia

There's serious appeal here for the multitasker. Kayak lets you compare hundreds of travel sites to find the best deals for flights, hotels and car rentals. You can also manage your itinerary, check flight status and even book a hotel room directly from the app.

Packing Pro
Available for iPhone, iPad

Packing Pro's "expert list assistant" generates your packing list based on criteria such as the number of travelers, destination, temperature and length of trip.

Available for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7

This is the ultimate organizational tool for travel. Just forward all your confirmation e-mails to TripIt, and the app automatically builds your itinerary. Want to track your miles, easily share your travel plans and more? Upgrade to TripIt Pro ($49 per year).

Google Translate
Available for iPhone, iPad, Android

Using this app is almost like having a personal translator--who works for free and is fluentin 63 languages. For most of those languages, the app can "listen" to you talk and then "speak" the corresponding translation.

Wi-Fi Finder
Available for iPhone, iPad, Android

Avoid Wi-Fi frustration. This app searches nearly 500,000 hot spots in 144 countries to provide a list of the free and paid Wi-Fi locations closest to you.

Travel Pocket
Available for iPhone, iPad, Android
$1.99 for iOS; free for Android

This app keeps your travel budget under control by tracking and organizing your spending according to time, location and category. Need to report your travel expenses? The app can convert your spending history to a spreadsheet. The currency exchange function is particularly handy for international travel.
--Katherine Duncan

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