Hong Kong is one of the world’s most exciting shopping destinations as evidenced by its continued buoyancy despite flagging tourist numbers and retail rental woes.
There has been no shortage of ink spilt in recent years about the negative impact of China’s anti-corruption crusade on Hong Kong’s retail sector. Visitor arrivals from the mainland represented 76 percent of all tourists in 2016, when those numbers fell 6.7 percent. Taken with aggressive campaigns to lure mainland tourists elsewhere – in Japan, Singapore and South Korea – and a strong Hong Kong dollar, life has become harder for the SAR’s retailers and landlords.
Or has it? Despite currency fluctuations and fleeing Chinese travelers, overnight visitors to Hong Kong spent an average of HK$6,600 a head during their stays, funneling nearly HK$300 billion in related capital into the economy that year, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board – and that was down from 2015.
Though mainland arrivals declined, short-haul markets (e.g., Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) registered an increase of 3.4 percent, while arrivals from long-haul markets (e.g., the United States and Australia) rose by 2.3 percent, and MICE and cruise passenger visits increased by 10 percent and 50 percent respectively. People are still coming, and they’re still shopping.
Put very simply, Hong Kong’s one-two punch of consumer-friendly retailing and a great deal to offer visitors seeking to complement their shopping are the primary reasons the retailing scene remains vibrant. An open-door business policy and historical connections make international brands a must-stop for regional expatriates and curious regional visitors alike.
Step outside a Marks & Spencer Food Hall on any given afternoon if you need proof. The new Italian outlet mall, Florentia Village, at Kwai Chung and the imminent Citygate expansion add to choices for bargain hunters, alongside guidebook hotspots like Ladies’ Street.
An added bonus: all of this is free of sales tax. In some form, 12 percent is added to goods in the Philippines, while Koreans and Australians pay as much as 10 percent levies, Japanese 8 percent and Thais 7 percent, according to tax advisory Deloitte. Twelve cents may not be a lot on a dollar, but it makes an enormous difference on a genuine Prada handbag.
HK gains from travel ban
While it’s true the recent diplomatic spat between China and South Korea over defense deployment has proven a boon to Hong Kong shopping (Chinese travel to South Korea fell 40 percent in March from a year ago on the back of Beijing’s directives to halt travel packages to the country), it is in all likelihood a temporary ban. Ultimately it is the city’s extras that keep Hong Kong a shopping option. When not shopping in boutiques, visitors can enjoy stellar food and beverage breaks at every turn, and leisure parks, cultural outlets as well as nature excursions can all be found in an easily navigable, compact space.
If there’s a silver lining to the city’s retail property woes it’s the newly available space for international restaurant groups to move into. Finding room on the dining scene so far this year are Japan’s Michelin-starred ramen eatery Tsuta, fresh local burger shack Honbo, Royal favorite Thai Brassiere by Blue Elephant, Moi Moi by Vietnamese Sydney celebrity chef Luke Nguyen, LILYA Moroccan Lounge and Bar and venerable American dessert café The Cheesecake Factory, to mention just a few.
Anyone traveling with children (cruise operators are quick to point out the burgeoning family demographic) will be glad to have the amusements at Hong Kong Disneyland and perennially popular Ocean Park – with real animals – an MTR ride away.
Arts and culture
Admittedly not everyone travels to Hong Kong with family or has a soft spot for amusement parks, and for those shoppers the SAR’s reputation as a cultural wasteland is quickly disappearing. The -two-year-old PMQ regeneration has put local, artisanal and independent designs at the shoppers’ fingertips, and the upcoming West Kowloon Cultural District has just opened its first gallery: M+. Soon to be a few minutes’ walk from the PMQ is the Central Police Station redevelopment on Hollywood Road, Tai Kwun. The 16 buildings will comprise art galleries, boutiques, as well as dining and leisure spaces, all highlighting local heritage. Tai Kwun and the WKCD are set to be destinations in their own right.
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