Shops and hotels hoping for a major "golden week" boost were left disappointed yesterday.
The Labour Day holiday got off to a sluggish start, prompting fears that Hong Kong may have lost some of its appeal for free-spending mainland shoppers.
About 270 tours arrived in the city, with 900 more expected before the end of the week.
But Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said the number of tour groups had dropped 15 per cent year-on-year.
The Labour Day holiday is one of the most important of the year for Hong Kong businesses.
The city usually sees an influx of hundreds of thousands of mainland shoppers snapping up everything from luxury flats to gold and expensive watches.
But many in the tourism and retail industry believe the Labour Day holiday has fallen out of fashion. Tung said: "The holiday has not been 'golden' since 2008."
And Michael Li Hon-sing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners, said his industry had suffered a major downturn.
This was despite many hotels cutting their rates by 10 per cent compared with last year.
The overall occupancy rate remained around 80 per cent, about the same as a year ago.
But Li said this was only because of international exhibitions also taking place in the city.
He described bookings from the mainland as poor and said three-star hotels, where the main source of customers is tour groups, had been particularly hard-hit. Also, the average tourist is not splashing out as much.
Hong Kong Retail Management Association president Caroline Mak Shui-king said: "It's true the sales volume per head [of mainland visitors] is falling.
"Many visitors are from the second or third-tier mainland cities these days and they tend to spend much less." But Mak remained optimistic that overall sales during the holiday would go up by about 10 or 12 per cent.
She added: "The sales agents must just work harder to keep up the sales volume."
While the number of tour groups has dropped, more individual travellers are arriving.
Figures from the Immigration Department showed the number of inbound individual travellers on Sunday jumped about 20 per cent year-on-year.
But individuals tend to be more careful with their cash than those in organised tour groups, where trips to shopping malls are a key part of the itinerary.
The picture is also complicated this year because many mainlanders rushed to Hong Kong to buy gold - traditionally a big item for Labour Day shoppers - two weeks before the holiday.
Stephen Chan, the owner of Perfect Jewellery in Causeway Bay, said his small shop had only four or five customers during the whole of yesterday morning.
He said: "Much of the consumption power was used up in advance. We believe we will see only moderate growth."
He expected sales per customer would drop to around HK$3,000 throughout the week, compared with HK$10,000 per head when the price of gold hit a two-year low two weeks ago.
One mainland tourist, Zhou Xueling, agreed the "golden week" had lost its lustre and said she preferred doing her shopping in Hong Kong on day trips.
"The accommodation is too expensive," she said.