During this year’s National Day Golden Week holiday, Hong Kong, as always, expects to receive tens of thousands of mainland visitors.
However, the daily numbers of passengers on the Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou Express Rail Link (XRL) have continued to fall below expectations since the cross-border train service came into service on Sept. 23.
The Boxes in Yuen Long, a 420,000 square foot shopping area tailor-made for mainland visitors, has remained almost like a ghost town since the start of the Golden Week.
Even some of our high-end and popular shopping locations in the Canton Road area in Tsim Sha Tsui are no longer as packed with mainland tourists as they were before.
We have gotten used to the fact that mainlanders account for 80 percent of the total number of visitors to Hong Kong, and their prevailing mode of consumer behavior, which is “shopping, shopping and more shopping”.
But how do we explain the low foot traffic at The Boxes?
Some may attribute the sparse presence of mainland tourists at The Boxes to its relatively remote location.
However, the fact that even popular shopping areas in the Canton Road area are also witnessing declining visitor traffic during this year’s Golden Week suggests that the problem has nothing to do with their accessibility.
What we think lies at the root of this phenomenon is a significant change in the model of spending among mainland visitors.
We need to understand that after 40 years of economic reforms, mainlanders now have a lot of choices when it comes to traveling.
For instance, if they want to shop for Japanese fashion, they can fly directly to Japan. Likewise, if they want to buy French luxury handbags, they can simply book a flight to Paris.
When it comes to foreign high-quality infant formula, mainlanders can snap up such products in online stores.
In other words, mainlanders no longer have to rely on Hong Kong for direct access to foreign goods like they did before. And that’s one of the main factors for the diminishing number of mainland tourists in shopping areas in Canton Road and The Boxes.
Figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) support this view.
In the first eight months of 2018, mainland visitor arrivals in the city hit nearly 33 million, up 13.8 percent from the same period last year.
However, the substantial growth in the total number of mainland visitors has not benefited the local retail industry. This indicates that a growing number of them are no longer coming to Hong Kong just to shop like they used to in the past; they are obviously looking for something more unique and deeper about our city.
Tourism is one of the key pillars of Hong Kong’s economy. So how can the industry respond to the changing tastes and demands of mainland visitors?
In order to maintain our competitiveness as one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, we need to provide a more diversified range of tourist attractions that will allow visitors to experience our unique indigenous culture and heritage.
The HKTB has already taken steps in the right direction, such as launching initiatives like the “Old Town Central” last year.
This year, it launched the “living museum” promotion in Sham Shui Po, which helps visitors locate stores that sell high-quality yet affordable clothing and restaurants that specialize in traditional local food in the district through a smartphone app.
The promotion also offers visitors a glimpse into the history of public housing in Hong Kong.
The HKTB has also held the Hong Kong Cyclothon, the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival, and other events which allow visitors to experience our city’s unique culture.
More and more mainland visitors are coming to Hong Kong not to shop till they drop, but to go hiking, swimming or camping – they are seeking a more in-depth travel experience in our city.
And so, while we continue to play our role as a “shopping paradise”, we must also cater for the changing demand of visitors by introducing a wider variety of tourist elements into our local attractions.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 2
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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