Luggage down, tourists up: Is this the new normal?

May 04, 2015 15:31
Sheung Shui's pharmacy row was relatively quiet during the long weekend when parallel traders were conspicuously scarce. Photo: HKEJ

Call it a golden weekend for Hong Kong residents.

The number of mainland tourists during the Labor Day weekend was up -- but not the luggage we saw in the streets.

From Sheung Shui to Causeway Bay, there were fewer tourists. At Sogo stores, sales ladies were much more patient with our search for a wedding gift on the first night of the long weekend.

Even Sheung Shui's famous pharmacy street was relatively quiet. I counted only five people with luggage, the first thing that gives a parallel trader away.

A friend told me that milk powder prices for certain brands were HK$130 per can, sharply down from HK$230.

Isn’t that what most Hong Kong residents want?

Yes, except it is a bit confusing, much like the weather we had over the weekend.

Despite poor retail sentiment and the official start of curbs on travel from mainland China, Sun Hung Kai Properties reported sales at its Sheung Shui Plaza were up 12 percent to HK$52 million (US$6.71 million) from Friday to Sunday.

In all, 620,000 shoppers visited the mall in those three days, up 10 percent from the same period last year.

Most of them were local residents. I know -- I was there yesterday.

More confusing are statistics from the Immigration Department which show inbound tourists were up 15 percent on May 1 and 2.

The total was 331,000 in the first two days, although most of them might have been in transit.

By "them", we mean mainland tourists who accounted for 82 per cent of arrivals. Their proportion keeps going up because other tourists have not be coming, deterred by a strong Hong Kong dollar.

That might explain why we had fewer people in our streets. Some gold shops and pharmacy stores said sales were down 20-70 percent during the weekend.

The drop in cross-border tourists could be partly attributed to Civic Passion, whose chaotic demonstrations kept mainlanders from their favorite shopping areas and put many New Territories malls back to normal.

Civic Passion was supposed to hold a weekend protest in Tuen Mun but it was cancelled apparently because its aim had been achieved.

Now, many Hong Kong residents have a quiet period to think if peace, not money, is what they really want.

The second quarter is a traditional off-peak season for tourists, so what you see may not be what you get.

We may see fewer Hongkongers going abroad for the Easter break or Labor day holiday now that they feel much more comfortable shopping where they live.

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EJ Insight writer