Chinese tourists

Shenzhen shoppers ready to accept limits on visits to Hong Kong

Special economic zone residents express understanding of worries over tourist influx, even though they can make unlimited trips now

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 5:22am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 11:56am

Whenever Liu Huilan and her friends in Shenzhen need retail therapy, household essentials or even just a girls' night out, there's no question where they'll go - Hong Kong.

They love it so much that, one summer two years ago, she and five friends set up an online chat group called "Have fun and buy soy sauce in Hong Kong". "Buying soy sauce" is a slang term for shopping in the city.

"Almost all the daily necessities we use at home are from Hong Kong," explains Liu, 32. "When any of us uses up her lipstick or cooking oil, she will call for a partner in the chat group. Then two or three in the group will … go with her to Hong Kong and shop that afternoon or night."

They spend between HK$600 and HK$1,000 on each trip.

But all that might change if restrictions are imposed. There have been reports that the Hong Kong government will reduce the number of trips that Shenzhen multiple-entry permit holders can make to the city. At the moment they can make any number of visits.

Currently about 2.5 million mainlanders in Shenzhen are eligible for multiple-entry permits. Some 1.2 million have obtained such permits, of which 30,000 to 50,000 are said to be working as parallel-goods traders, who buy up goods in Hong Kong and sell them on the mainland.

Hong Kong residents near the border, particularly along the railway line in North District, as well as in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long, have complained that parallel-goods trading depletes supplies, pushes up prices and causes public disturbance.

Liu's group - which includes a teacher, housewife, manager and civil servant, all from middle-class households - said they had heard little about the debate on future travel limits. But if Hong Kong does impose restrictions, the women said it would be "acceptable and understandable" to keep visits to at least once a week.

Sunny Tao, a yacht salesman who needs to take clients to Hong Kong frequently, agreed. "Once per day would be much safer for people like me whose companies have a strong connection with Hong Kong."

Both Liu and Tao said they would not mind measures primarily aimed at parallel-goods traders, adding they shared Hongkongers' disdain for the activity.

"I'm quite unhappy when I see traders crowded at the checkpoint and in trains," Liu said.

The two biggest incentives are that products in Hong Kong are cheaper but higher in quality. Liu said the saving they made on shopping was worth the journey - which costs, by train, HK$20 from Shenzhen to Sheung Shui.

Liu estimates that Hong Kong goods are at least 20 per cent cheaper than in Shenzhen.

"Of course [travel restrictions would] give Hong Kong a bad reputation for not welcoming Shenzhen neighbours," Liu said.

"But it would not have that big an [impact] if we can still go to Hong Kong once or twice a week. My friends seldom travel to Hong Kong more than two times a week," she said.