24 March 2019
Picture: Bloomberg
Picture: Bloomberg

Time to rewind shopping strategy?

Footage of a toddler urinating in Mong Kok was all it took to fan the flames of Hong Kong-mainland tensions. Now a few figures from the Immigration Department could be enough to douse some concern about cross-border tourists and shift attention to local shoppers. 

Hong Kong reported a slight decline of mainland visitors over the May 1 golden week holiday, the first fall since the solo traveller scheme was introduced a decade ago.

Immigration Department figures show that around 388,070 mainland tourists entered Hong Kong between May 1 and May 3, 2 percent less than the same time last year. About 12 percent fewer mainlanders made the trip across the border on the first day of the holiday.

For Hong Kong residents, that meant thinner crowds in shopping districts like Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui.

City residents have long been concerned that shopping malls and districts do not serve their needs, with luxury brands, cosmetics retailers and pharmacies dominating commercial areas to meet the robust demand of mainland tourists. Residents say they find it difficult to buy daily necessities from small local retailers, and that places like Mong Kok have been stripped of their unique and diverse street culture.

According to a Legislative Council report released Wednesday, domestic consumption accounted for 61.7 percent of retail sales last year, down from 79.7 percent in 2004. The influx of mainland shoppers has distorted the retail sector, the report said, as shopping malls have competed to sell high‐end products like jewellery and watches and sought-after items milk powder.

The number of shops selling cosmetics and personal care products multiplied by 15 times between 2004 and 2013. In contrast, the number of non‐speciality stores shrank by 29.5 percent and the number of shops selling books, newspapers and stationery by about a quarter.

Hong Kong welcomed 54.3 million visitors last year, three-quarters of whom were from the mainland. Solo travellers made up about two-thirds of the mainland contingent, 22 percent of retail sales and 1.3 percent of Hong Kong’s GDP. The report said around 65 percent of solo travellers making one-day trips in 2013 came to shop. 

Some online commentators said Hong Kong would go on even if mainland tourists stopped coming. They urged businesses to refocus on developing of local market, rather than putting all their eggs into the one basket of cross-border visitors, especially as the economy slows and the authorities crack down on corruption.

Lower shop rents could also encourage local people to start their own businesses to meet local demand, helping to rebuild the Hong Kong spirit, they said.

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EJ Insight writer

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