The increasing number of affluent mainland visitors to Hong Kong is the only factor that is giving a much-needed lift to the depressed retail market, say major retailers. Alfred Dunhill's Asia-Pacific managing director Tim King said mainland tourists accounted for up to 30 per cent of its total sales last year. 'They have already replaced Japanese as our second largest market after Hong Kong people,' he said. Mr King said he expected sales from mainland visitors would continue to grow in coming years because the company's products were being offered at prices that were about 30 per cent cheaper in Hong Kong than on mainland. 'It is worth them holding back on their purchases on the mainland until they come to Hong Kong,' he added. Mr King said Hong Kong had always been an important market for luxury products and it was a showcase for other parts of Asia, particularly for visitors from the mainland. Lisa Chow, China and Hong Kong marketing manager for top-line pen and accessory maker Mont Blanc, said: 'Our sales to mainland customers definitely recorded a rise last year.' She said the company's products were about 10 per cent cheaper in Hong Kong than on the mainland. Mont Blanc, which operates six stores in Hong Kong, offers products ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. The Hong Kong Tourism Board said the city's reputation as a shopping haven, particularly for luxury goods, remained a selling point for tourists. Executive director Clara Chong Ming-wah rejected claims that Hong Kong had lost its competitive edge to Bangkok as a favoured shopping centre, adding that shopping accounted for more than 50 per cent of tourists' overall spending in Hong Kong. 'We are always a trend centre as we have a wide range of imported international brands,' she said. According to the tourist board's latest figure, mainland tourists spent an average of $5,169 per trip in 2001. Of their total spending, 63.7 per cent went on shopping. Total spending by them on shopping amounted to $14.65 billion in 2001, up 23 per cent from a year earlier.