Retailers and restaurants say consumers are more willing to spend this year but sales are still down on the boom times Retailers and restaurants expect a bumper turnover for this Christmas with consumers more willing to spend, but there is still a long way to go to match the sales seen before the handover and the economic slump. Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairman Bankee Kwan Pak-hoo said this year's festive sales season started earlier than last year, as shops looked to increase the volume of sales. 'Prices are similar to last year's. The room for raising prices is still limited because the public's net disposable income hasn't improved substantially,' Mr Kwan said. 'But they are more willing to spend. The economy has improved and they have more confidence. Overall this year should see a 9 per cent increase. But that's still 20 per cent away from full recovery.' Restaurants have received strong bookings for Christmas. The Grand Hyatt's Grand Cafe, Grissini, Kaetsu and the Tiffin Lounge are fully booked on December 24. A Grand Hyatt spokeswoman said that despite a 5 per cent price increase, its restaurants were filling up much quicker this year. The InterContinental Hotels Group expects a full house at its restaurants over Christmas. A spokeswoman said customers had planned further ahead this year. Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings, said he hoped that the business for his restaurant group would improve by 20 to 25 per cent over the Christmas period. 'Business is very strong. People started to spend at the end of last year during the post-Sars period. With this feel-good factor, people are cautiously optimistic,' he said. He said the economy was more lively than expected and this time there would not be a bubble. 'Inflation hasn't set in. I feel that it is sustainable growth. Tourists from the mainland bring cash to Hong Kong. There's a lot of money in the system,' he said. Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said there should be a 10 to 15 per cent increase in the industry's profit for this Christmas. He said consumers' willingness to spend was the main reason. 'The travel industry improves only with the improvement of the economy,' he said. 'The tour fees for this Christmas have increased slightly by 5 to 10 per cent, especially for the Europe tour groups, because of the strong exchange rate for euros. 'Other destinations, such as Southeast Asia and Japan, are cheaper. Fees to Beijing and Taiwan have dropped by 20 per cent.' Mr Tung said the most popular destinations were Hokkaido and the mainland's northeast because people liked to see snow over Christmas, and these locations were good for short visits. However, Lunar New Year would still be the high season for travel, he said. A Gary & Boris Flowers spokesman said smaller decorative floral items such as Christmas wreaths had become more popular because most family flats had no room for a tree. He said prices had fallen by 30 per cent this year. An Anglo Chinese Florist spokeswoman said Christmas trees were more expensive this year, at $680 compared with $650 last year because of the strong euro. But the florist was optimistic about the festive season business because people were more willing to spend.