Under normal circumstances I would be writing this particular column from Hong Kong, but due to the continuing unrest there it was decided that I would not fly there to take part in the recently concluded Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference, co-organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, of which we are a supporting media partner. (That said, we were not completely unrepresented: our vice president Carlo Curay was one of the event’s speakers, and I’m happy to report he was out of harm’s way throughout.)
I could only watch news about continuing protests from home. In the past five months calls for reforms in the city have intensified, and matters have reached a point where both sides are no longer willing to yield even an inch. As clashes become more violent, its impact on the city’s economy have been negative. Officials expect the economy to shrink by 1.3% this year, the first decline since the global financial crisis in 2009. Tourist numbers are falling. The retail sector, particularly those in luxury goods, are taking a particular hit. While one expects local consumption wouldn’t flag – people still need to eat, after all – the polarizing nature of the protests has meant businesses have either been wary to open their doors, or customers have been wary to patronize them.
I don’t write this to take sides. Rather, I can’t help but recall the concept of the “animal spirit”, one that our friend, economist Ronilo Balbieran, has always emphasized during his economic briefings. In the case of the Philippines, this means increased consumption, whether they’re feeling upbeat or otherwise. Perhaps it’s also a cultural thing, how we Filipinos rely on social gatherings to maintain bonds and to let off steam.
In Hong Kong’s case, it seems the fervor for reforms has led to uncertainty that, so far, has been detrimental to the city’s overall economy. But then, I’m certain there are many other factors, and while I have visited the city every year for the past five years (save this year), I can’t say I am familiar with that.
That said, it would be interesting to see how Hong Kong can cope and recover with the shock of continuing unrest. From the perspective of this supply chain observer, the city, with its robust systems and safeguards, as well as a reputation for trade that goes back decades, should be able to at least keep things going. But there are way too many factors at play that make this a harder thing to predict. When all this blows over – I’m not sure when, but it must, right? – would Hong Kong be able to recover to a semblance of where it was before, or perhaps reinvent itself for whatever new reality it would face?
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about resiliency – how everyone, from businesses to their employees, must develop this quality to be able to adapt to unforeseen developments and, perhaps, turn them into opportunities. There are many approaches to this: deploying technologies, streamlining processes, providing better support to stakeholders at every level. I think the unrest in Hong Kong – and developments elsewhere in the world, and in our own country, as we are constantly reminded whenever talk of the “Big One” resurfaces – is a reminder that we should be looking at whether we are well-equipped and well-prepared to cope with these shocks. We can plan all we want for every eventuality, but as we’ve seen time and time again, sometimes the things you least expect will disrupt the way you do things. What you may have seen as a good thing may turn out to be the opposite. When that happens, can you turn a possible negative into a definite positive?
A Pearly White Christmas: We wrap up our 30th anniversary celebrations with our Christmas fellowship, with the theme “A Pearly White Christmas”, happening on December 5, 6pm, at the Ascott Bonifacio Global City Manila. Join us for fun, gifts and the search for the first ever Voice of Supply Chain. (Yes, a singing contest.) More information is on our website, scmap.org.
Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.