Landlords of major shopping centres have pulled out all the stops, including shelling out tens of millions of dollar on promotional campaigns and extending business hours, to cash in on what they anticipate to be their best Lunar New Year since 1997. They are eager to make the most of the month-long festival shopping season - the peak of which traditionally runs from a few days before the New Year to its 10th day - after a year that has seen the city's main stock market index rise by more than 30 per cent, generous year-end bonuses and salary rises, and the appreciating yuan, making items here more affordable for spendthrift mainland tourists. According to the Institute of Human Resources Management, workers this year received their highest salary increase since 2002, an average rise of 2.4 per cent, compared with 1.7 per cent last year. For what is generally the second-most lucrative season after Christmas, Sun Hung Kai Properties, Sino Land and Wharf Group, the city's three largest mall operators, have boosted their promotional budgets by as much as 50 per cent from a year ago, providing a slate of free entertainment, from aerobatic shows, traditional Chinese music and western-style piano recitals to Chinese art and fortune tellers. 'This Chinese New Year will probably register the best sales in a decade,' said Maureen Fung Sau-yim, general manager at Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agent, the leasing arm of SHKP. It increased its promotional budget by 25 per cent over last year, to HK$8.2 million, at 11 of its major malls, including Tai Po Mega Mall in Tai Po and The Sun Arcade in Tsim Sha Tsui. In addition, it is spending HK$8 million at it flagship APM mall in Kwun Tong, up 20 per cent from a year ago, on events including recitals of the Guqin, a Chinese zither, and piano, as well as acrobatics, and traditional dances. The developer hopes that between January 17 and February 27, sales at APM will be 20 per cent higher than last year to HK$310 million - or more than 10 per cent of its entire year's income - by attracting 9.3 million shoppers. APM generated HK$3 billion in sales for the whole of last year. Luxury goods retailers, such as those selling watches, jewellery and designer labels, have already recorded brisker sales during this period. 'Our tenants told us visiting Beijing and Shanghai shoppers bought four watches each last week costing about HK$20,000 to HK$30,000, rather than one during regular times,' she said. 'Some shops are nearly sold out.' Sino Land's Tuen Mun Town Plaza in Tuen Mun, which targets local middle-income consumers, increased its marketing budget for this year by 50 per cent to HK$6 million. It also extended the opening hours to midnight last week, and opened 24 hours in the two days before Lunar New Year. Ronnie Chan Yam-ling, general manager of Tuen Mun Town Plaza, expects sales at the mall will reach HK$400 million this month, up 15 per cent from a year ago. 'We have seen a stronger spending mood this year, with average purchase between HK$3,000 and HK$10,000 per visit,' she said. Karen Tam, promotion and advertising senior manager at Wharf's subsidiary Harbour City Estates, which is responsible for leasing and management of Hong Kong's largest shopping mall, the two million square foot Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui, hopes sales will increase 10 per cent for the holiday season, after it invested HK$5 million to hail the arrival of the Year of the Pig. 'We have seen most shops selling designer labels packed with people,' she said. For the shopping centres, more shoppers translate directly to the bottom line, since the rental contract gives the landlords the right to charge either a base rent or turnover rent, whichever is higher. 'They normally charge 15 per cent on tenants' average sales as turnover rents. So, the more business the tenants can generate, the more rents landlords will receive,' said Helen Mak, a retail service group senior manager at property consultant Colliers International. In addition, by boosting retail sales, the landlords can raise rents, which already are at all-time highs in many areas. She forecasts retail rents will increase 15 to 25 per cent for leases due for renewal this year. 'International retailers are continuing to look for shops in Hong Kong where the retail industry should benefit from the 2008 Beijing Olympics,' she said.