Hong Kong has been in the business of business since forever, with relatively little interest or investment over the centuries dedicated toward local cultural arts—especially contemporary art.

That changed in 2008 with the launch of ART HK. The ambitious modern art fair was created for mostly Asian buyers and dealers, however it exceeded anyone’s initial expectations in terms of interest and attendance. By 2011 it had attracted enough international buyers that Art Basel, one of the world’s most high-profile arbiters of contemporary fine art, purchased a 60% stake in the event.

The inaugural version of the rebranded Art Basel Hong Kong launched in May 2013 to critical acclaim, partially because it was careful to manage a 50/50 split between Asian and Western galleries and artists, as per agreement with the ART HK group.

Former director of ART HK, Magnus Renfrew, has stayed on as director of the new event.

Before last year, Art Basel operated in Basel, Switzerland and Miami. Now, “Basel” is a truly global movement, commemorated with a new art book detailing the three shows to be published later this month.

With Art Basel’s involvement, Hong Kong’s evolution into a global art hub for both the traveling public and big league industry players is officially a thing. Attendance at last year’s event topped 60,000 visitors with 245 presenting galleries from 35 countries.

During May 15-18 next month, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong will reprise its role as the art fair’s official host hotel. And new this year, Swiss financial giant UBS stepped in to become lead sponsor.

“It has certainly enhanced tourism here in Hong Kong, with Art Basel creating much excitement and intrigue with so many galleries, artists, collectors and buyers all coming together in Asia,” says Jonas Schuermann, GM and area VP of operations at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. “Many of the leading art galleries from around the world have now opened their local galleries here in Hong Kong, including White Cube, Gagosian and Lehmann Maupin, to name just a few.”

As it did last year, Mandarin Oriental is hosting a selection of 15 local contemporary artworks in its Clipper Lounge. The hotel has also developed a series of art-themed packages and a rather curious array of creative food dishes designed like art.

Proceeds from Mandarin’s art sales will support Operation Smile China Medical Mission, which conducts cleft palate reconstruction for thousands of children in Hong Kong and the surrounding area. All the art presented at the hotel will be themed around smiles.

Board member of Operation Smile and leading art curator Mandy d’Abo selected the specific local artists represented, including Kacey Wong, Marc Standing, Charles Munka, Peter Yuill, and Desmond Leung.

“The atmosphere was electric and the range of galleries that were present was the crème de la crème,” Schuermann says of last year’s show. “Everyone was delighted with the calibre of clients it attracted, not to mention 200 special art events that took place around Hong Kong. It was certainly a time when our art community and art lovers came together to celebrate the vibrancy of Hong Kong’s cultural scene.”

West Kowloon Cultural District

Art Basel Hong Kong is presently HQ’d in the striking Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre located on the Central Island side of Victoria Harbour. Central is one of the world’s most recognizable cityscapes, and home to most of the city’s luxury hotels and financial industry.

Kowloon, meanwhile, on the opposite shore is anchored by the Peninsula, InterContinental, W and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

After many years of delays due to the economic recession, the sprawling West Kowloon Cultural District finally began development last year. The highlight of the cultural district will be M+ Museum designed by the famous Basel-based architecture firm, Herzog & de Meuron. The museum is scheduled to open in late 2017, which will then host some of Art Basel Hong Kong in 2018.

Lead architect Jacques Herzog says, “It certainly could become the most important institution for visual arts, visual communications, visual performance and crossover work in Asia.”

Exactly what type of permanent art to place in the museum is under somewhat heated discussion, but Schuermann says the die has been cast. The important thing is that the cultural arts are now a much more respected part of the mosaic of local travel experiences.

“Art Basel put Hong Kong in the spotlight as one of the most important international cities with regards to art,” he says. “Art is now a focal point of the community here with galleries being developed in many areas to encompass and embrace the market.”

Greg Oates covers hotel/tourism development and travel brand media. He has toured over 1,000 hotels in 50+ countries. email / twitter

Photo Credit: Two food items designed like art at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. Mandarin Oriental Hotels