The mass protests triggered by the National People’s Congress ruling are seen as a slap in the face to Beijing and one way to denounce the civil disobedience movement is to make a fuss about its impact on the local economy.
Officials repeatedly say that retailers in protest-hit areas like Causeway Bay and Mong Kok have suffered substantial losses. But a careful examination can show that the economic impact could be next to nothing.
The fact is that some restaurants and food kiosks in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay may have seen a spike in business as protesters need to find a place to eat.
Certainly many may avoid these typical shopping centers due to safety concerns but it does not mean that they will not spend money somewhere else.
Anyway, people will still shop and play, only in alternative destinations in the city.
Media reports say malls like New Town Plaza in Sha Tin and CityGate in Tung Chung have seen robust growth in sales during the National Day break.
Similarly, empty hotel rooms within the protest zones also means more revenue for the accommodation sector in other districts.
Those who postpone their trips to Hong Kong may also come at a later time, and, contrary to earlier fears, the number of mainland visitors rose 2.2 percent during the period, according to the Travel Industry Council.
These all point to the fact that Occupy Central may just affect the consumption pattern (time, method and location) by locals and tourists and since one shop’s loss can be another’s gain, the overall impact on quarterly or annual retail sales may just be mild and manageable.
Also, one should not overlook the additional consumption of necessities needed for the campaign, like sunscreen lotion, tents, masks, umbrellas, rain coats, fast food, bottled drink, plastic wrap etc. The robust demand for stickers, posters and flyers also mean a boost for the printing sector.
And, since protesters mainly gather in areas other than Central, Hong Kong’s financial sector, which once feared a shutdown, is largely unscathed except for a few closed bank branches.
The resilience of a free and competitive economy like Hong Kong — both in key sectors like finance and retail — is evident during the protests.
This commentary appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal’s Oct. 9 issue.
Translation by Frank Chen.
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