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by Hunter R. Slaton | February 01, 2010

In July, Hong Kong will celebrate the 13th anniversary of its handover from Great Britain, of which it was a colony from 1842 to 1997 (with the exception of its occupation by the Japanese during World War II), to the Chinese. However, Hong Kong retains a significant degree of autonomy, and in economic and political terms is far more capitalist and liberal than its booming communist parent.

The basics
For stays of up to three months, U.S. citizens do not require a visa to enter Hong Kong. The currency is the Hong Kong dollar (HKD), which trades with the U.S. dollar at a rate of roughly 7.80 HKD to US$1.

Hong Kong is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 16 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (12 and 15 hours, respectively, when it's not daylight-savings time in the United States). Eighty-eight percent of Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese, although English is widely spoken.

Convention centerThe Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre completed a US$180 million expansion in April 2009, bringing the facility's total exhibition space to 893,080 square feet. Total space available for events at the HKCEC is nearly one million square feet.

Hotel update As of last September, Hong Kong had 57,867 hotel rooms (not counting the smaller tourist guesthouses, which provide an additional 5,695 rooms).

In 2009, a number of major hotels with sizable meeting space opened in Hong Kong. These include:

• Crowne Plaza Hotel Hong Kong Causeway Bay, with 263 rooms and 6,387 square feet of meeting space;
• Harbour Grand Hong Kong (828 rooms, 12,685 square feet);
• Harbour Plaza 8 (702 rooms, 4,500 square feet);
• Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin (434 rooms, 8,073 square feet);
• Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Tsim Sha Tsu (381 rooms, 5,705 square feet).

Phase Two of the gargantuan L'hotel Nina et Convention Centre opened in October 2008, giving the property a total of 1,493 guest rooms, 32,000 square feet of meeting and event space, and five breakout rooms. When Phase Three is completed (no date has been set), the two-tower hotel will have a total of 1,608 rooms.

The chic Mira Hong Kong hotel, with 492 guest rooms, recently completed an extensive US$65 million renovation. The property offers a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, plus a variety of smaller meeting spaces.

Theme parksHong Kong Disneyland is poised to undergo a major expansion. By 2014, the park will add three new themed "lands" and more than 30 new attractions. The complex has two hotels -- the 600-room Disney's Hollywood Hotel and the 400-room Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel. The latter offers 16,146 square feet of meeting space.

Religious groups and others might consider the new Noah's Ark at Ma Wan Park, which opened in May 2009. The attraction bills itself as "the world's only full-size replica of Noah's Ark" and incorporates a 4,000-square-foot exhibition hall. Also on-site is a small hotel with 19 private rooms and 24 hostel rooms, which can sleep four to eight people each.

Airport informationHong Kong International Airport is the destination for about 200 flights per week from the United States, including daily direct service from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. The airport is a 24-minute ride from downtown by high-speed Airport Express train. The fare ranges from US$11.60 to US$12.90. Taxis also are available; the ride takes about 35 to 45 minutes and costs approximately US$45 to US$50.