Hong Kong shoppers cashing in on weak yen

Cheaper Japanese food imports prove popular in HK, as weak yen also boosts tourism to Japan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 April, 2013, 4:48am

Japanese food retailers and travel agents have cheered the chronic weakness in the yen, which could help them shore up sales and their bottom lines.

The fall of the yen has boosted Tokyo-bound Hong Kong tourists back to pre-tsunami levels, said Wing On Travel, one of the biggest travel agents in Hong Kong.

"The number of tours and individual tourists to Tokyo has jumped several times in the first quarter [compared with the same time last year]," said Simon Ma Sai-man, Wing On's assistant general manager. The tremendous growth, however, was partially skewed by the lower base caused by the tsunami in March 2011.

"The numbers have swung back to the level before 2011 as the weak yen, combined with lower tour fees, has lured more tourists back to Tokyo," Ma said.

The price of a five-day tour to Tokyo has dropped 10 per cent on average to as low as HK$3,899 in the low season, compared with HK$5,000 last year.

Not all tours to Japanese destinations are dropping prices. The price for a tour to Hokkaido, Okinawa and Kansai region have climbed by 2 to 3 per cent year on year because of the rise in air fare prices. Hong Kong Airlines stopped flying to Osaka and Hokkaido from late last year. Meanwhile, the tension over a territorial dispute between China and Japan has prompted Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways to cut their services to Hong Kong.

Overall, Japan-bound tourist volumes have seen double-digit growth in the first three months, Ma said. "I expect it is a continuous trend for the year," he added. On the other hand, tourism to South Korea has seen a single-digit decline.

The numbers have swung back to the level before 2011 as the weak yen, combined with lower tour fees, has lured more tourists back to Tokyo

Masanobu Nagakura, the owner of Japan Premium Store, which opened in Causeway Bay in December, said the downturn in the yen has lowered the cost of its products and lifted its profit margin to 30 per cent from 20 per cent.

"We have achieved break-even in the third month of operation and we are now considering opening another shop," Nagakura said. "But it is very hard to find a shop with good location and reasonable price as the rents in Hong Kong are so high."

Consumers also benefit from the downturn in the yen when they walk into Yata Department Stores, which has three outlets in Hong Kong. Prices of some biscuit and snack food lines have been cut 5 per cent to 20 per cent, said Rebecca Tse, assistant general marketing manager at Yata.

In the first three months, sales at its supermarket division rose 11 per cent year on year, disregarding discounts.

"The weakness in yen has given our merchandisers more freedom to extend our food choices as prices come down to a more affordable level for Hong Kong consumers," Tse said.