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Ageing society

More Hongkongers opting for burial sites in mainland China and the US as a lack of local cemetery space drives up prices

Funeral companies reveal that many of their clients have been looking further afield for their final resting places, as securing an affordable space in Hong Kong can take years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2018, 11:06pm

A shortage of burial space in Hong Kong has prompted some locals to opt for a final resting place miles away on the mainland or even in the United States, according to funeral business operators.

The latest trend, which was reported on Friday by burial services companies at the 50+ Expo at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, saw an increasing number of Hongkongers buying burial plots or niches in Guangdong and San Francisco.

Alex Chan Ka-po, sales director of one of the exhibitors, the Funeral Business Association, said there were more than 100 families buying niche places on the mainland since they started selling such services six months ago.

He said it took at least three to four years on average to obtain a cheap public niche in Hong Kong and it cost between HK$10,000 and HK$20,000 each in private columbariums in the city.

He said their business might be boosted by the government’s requirement for columbarium operators to apply for a licence.

“There were 144 private columbariums applying for the licence by [the deadline in] March, however no new licences have been given to this day,” he said.

Hongkongers ‘may turn to mainland’ for columbarium niches amid tighter grip on private operators

Chan said Hongkongers could buy memorial tablets at three of their premises in Sham Shui Po, Hung Hom and Tai Wai and place the ashes at their columbariums in Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Sihui in Guangdong.

Hong Kong families usually do ground burials, even when cremated, since that is no longer available in Hong Kong
David Montgomery, NorthStar Memorial Group

He said most of their Hong Kong clients had relatives on the mainland and they could choose to pay their tribute either in the city or across the border.

Chow Po-him, sales manager of the Hong Kong Confucian Buddhist Taoist Ancestral Memorial Hall, which also sells memorial tablets in town and niches on the mainland, said Hongkongers might need some years to accept the novel concept of having their ashes stored outside the city.

“People in the past preferred burial and were strongly against cremation, [which was accepted] after years of promotion,” he said.

He said the tablets cost about HK$8,000 each while the niche places, depending on their location, cost between HK$12,000 and HK$20,000 each.

Another exhibitor, the US-based NorthStar Memorial Group, made their first official international promotion in the city after seeing more Hongkongers buying niches and burial lots in their two most popular properties in San Francisco and Hawaii.

The firm said that among the 50 Asian family clients it had last year, half of them were from Hong Kong while nine were from Beijing, Shanghai and Macau. The rest were from Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. There were only 11 Hong Kong clients in 2016.

It added the Hong Kong clients usually have relatives or ties in the United States.

Online solution to Hong Kong’s columbarium shortage

David Montgomery, vice-president for cemetery development at NorthStar Memorial Group and Eternal Resorts, said: “Hong Kong families usually do ground burials, even when cremated, since that is no longer available in Hong Kong.”

The company charges between US$6,000 and US$12,000 for a niche place and US$1,500 and US$2,500 per square foot for burial lots. It said each niche could accommodate up to eight urns.

According to government figures, there were 38,683 deaths and 33,288 cremations in 2005 and the number increased to 45,883 and 42,809 last year respectively.

As of June 6 this year, there were 32,209 applications for public niches but the waiting time could be as long as nearly 100 months – more than eight years.

It costs HK$2,890 for a standard public niche that can hold more than two sets of ashes and HK$3,690 for a larger one that can hold more than four sets of ashes.