Internet cafes grew in popularity about a decade ago when online games became an instant hit with teenagers. But changing habits, the implementation of the minimum wage law and the proposed licensing regulations are dealing a blow to their survival.
Sixteen-year-old Ken Cheung Kwan-kiu is a regular customer at internet cafes. Ken said some youngsters visited the cafes because their parents did not let them play computer games for a long time. And he was one of them.
But he noticed the venues were not as popular as a few years ago.
'In the past, the cafes were always packed when I went after school. Now they are not,' he said.
This was because there were many more gadgets, such as PlayStation's PSP and Nintendo's Wii, which teenagers could play at home, he believed.
Home Affairs Bureau figures show the number of cyber cafes dropped to 230 in 2009, from 300 in 2003. Secretary for Home Affairs Raymond Young said earlier last month that this figure was now about 200.
Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association chairman Danny Lau Tat-pong said last week that 10 per cent of the city's internet cafes would have to close down after the implementation of the minimum wage law. Some cafe owners told him they would have to pay their staff 20 per cent more which would slash profits.
Eddy Chen Lung-shing, director of Mysystem.com.hk, told the South China Morning Post the new licensing regulations would increase the operating difficulties, and half of the city's cafes might have to close.
But Chan Ka-ling, a social worker and director of Youth Outreach's School of Hip Hop, said there were many reasons why teenagers preferred to visit internet cafes.
She said the cafes were important places for friends to gather and chill out. The low charges, cheap food and drinks and air conditioning also drew teens.
But some visited the cafes for different reasons, for example, because they had quarrelled with their parents and did not want to go home.