Ban on forced shopping trips hits takings in Hong Kong stores
Mainland visitors appear to be in no mood to spend at the start of 'golden week' holidays
Phila Siu and Ernest Kao
The "golden week" National Day holiday kicked off yesterday with more of a whimper than a bang in Hong Kong's stores.
Many reported sluggish sales compared with last year, possibly due to a new mainland law aimed at protecting tourists against being forced to shop.
Some shops said business was down by as much as 90 per cent on the first day, but an industry representative, Caroline Mak Shui-king, was optimistic, saying the clampdown would allow tourists more time to shop where they wanted.
"The law will in fact help make Hong Kong a true shopping paradise in the long run," said Mak, chairwoman of the Retail Management Association.
The law was approved in April and took effect yesterday, coinciding with the National Day "golden week" on the mainland that runs until Monday.
It seeks to combat the infamous "forced shopping" trips by banning travel agencies from bringing tour groups to designated shops "unless prior consensus has been reached" with the group members.
Group tours used to complain of being under pressure to spend while locked inside shops. The agencies profited from commissions paid by the stores.
Mainland authorities also issued tourists guidelines about avoiding acting in "uncivilised" ways, such as spitting.
In Hung Hom, retailers around Man Lok Street were twiddling their thumbs well into the afternoon. The street was so full of tour buses last year that traffic police had to move in to manage the jams. But only a few buses stopped there yesterday.
"Our business has dropped 80 to 90 per cent compared with last year," a salesman at food seller Gourmet Style said. "We have had just a few customers, but this time last year there was already a long queue at the cashier."
A salesgirl at a watch shop was still waiting for a customer. "Last year I was so busy that I didn't have time for lunch. Now I am just chatting with colleagues."
A tourist who was browsing the jewellery stores, Gao Yongjin from Shenzhen, said he welcomed the new law as it gave mainlanders who did not like to shop a chance to say no.
In Causeway Bay, shops that were not frequented by tour groups were also complaining. At Kam Kau Jewellery & Goldsmith in Hennessy Road, branch manager Charlie Leung Wai-kee said the day was "unusually quiet".
William Wong Wai-sheung, chief executive of jewellery chain Luk Fook, expected little change in business as many mainlanders now visited through the individual traveller scheme.
Travel Industry Council chairman Michael Wu Siu-ieng said 250 tour groups crossed the border, 30 per cent down on last year. But he expected an 8 per cent growth in mainlanders visiting on the individual traveller scheme over the week, which would raise total arrivals by 4 per cent compared with 2012.
Last year 960,000 mainlanders visited during the holiday.