Prospect of riots, bird flu and fewer mainland visitors could crimp growth in spending Fears that next month's WTO meeting in Hong Kong could trigger riots, worries over a possible bird flu pandemic and a tapering off in mainland visitors are threatening to dampen the festive shopping season, say business owners. 'Towards Christmas time there's going to be a number of things that are going to make people a little skittish,' said Stephen Andersen, owner and operator of the Kangaroo Downunder Bar and Restaurant in Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, not far from where the World Trade Organisation ministerial conference will be held. 'It's difficult to say how business will be. The WTO conference finishes a week before Christmas. It's being portrayed as a potential problem, that the conference may go the way of Seattle and be overrun by militant South Korean farmers. People are going to wonder if they should have their party in Wan Chai or Tsim Sha Tsui and if there will be problems in the weeks before Christmas. And there is a lot of talk about bird flu. Personally, I don't think anything is going to happen and it will be fine.' With global trade representatives in the city from December 13 to 18, security will be tight. Police will cordon off a wide area around the Convention and Exhibition Centre - the meeting venue - including three hotels, the Tamar site and Wan Chai Ferry Pier. Hotels have also tightened security in response to possible terrorist attacks during the conference. Despite the raised tension, many bars and restaurants are reporting strong bookings for the holiday season and the Hong Kong Retail Management Association is cautiously optimistic about the peak shopping time of the year. For all the talk of rising salaries, association chairman and chief executive Bankee Kwan Pak-hoo expects only a modest loosening of purse strings. He predicts retail sales will grow by only 5 per cent this Christmas season, compared with last year, because of a drop in the number of mainland tourists. The individual traveller scheme, set up as a part of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement two years ago, was losing its impetus, he said. Mr Kwan said sales last Christmas were unusually good. The total value of sales jumped nearly 9 per cent year on year to $18 billion last December, the best December since the handover. Inflation reached its highest level since 1997 last month, 1.8 per cent, but is not expected to deter people from dining out, hosting parties or buying lavish gifts. 'Two per cent just means no deflation,' said General Chamber of Commerce chief economist David O'Rear, who expects the WTO meeting and bird flu will have only a minor effect on the holiday season. The Hong Kong Hotels' Association believes the spectre of bird flu could dampen sentiment over Christmas. But executive director James Lu Shien-hwai said this was bound to be outweighed by positive sentiment. He said that while businesses had been asked not to schedule important meetings during the WTO conference, room bookings before and after were still strong. Mr Lu was also surprisingly confident that Hong Kong Disneyland would help attract tourists from other parts of the region during its first Christmas season.