‘Mini-Golden Week’ to bring shopping boom as cash-rich visitors flock to Hong Kong for holiday

Jump in latest tourist figures year on year to nearly 5 million visitors points to recovering local economy on strength of cash-rich mainlanders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 11:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 April, 2018, 11:54pm

Hong Kong’s retailers and tourism-dependent businesses are expecting booming sales over the coming days, with bumper crowds at major shopping districts as cash-rich visitors from mainland China flock to the city for the Labour Day holidays, also known as “mini-Golden Week”.

The buoyancy was underlined on Monday by the latest tourist arrival figures, which jumped 8.9 per cent to 4.99 million year on year amid a recent recovery since a significant downturn in 2015.

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In scenes reminiscent of the peak-performing years of 2013 and 2014, long queues were seen outside luxury fashion labels on Canton Road in the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui, while sales were also brisk at pharmacies selling medicine and cosmetics in the border town of Yuen Long.

In stark contrast, a shopping town purpose-built at the San Tin border for mainland visitors stood largely empty, with most shops still closed after repeated opening delays.

According to the latest figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board, 9 per cent more travellers visited the city in March compared with the same period a year ago, and more of them stayed overnight.

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The total number of visitors was 4.99 million, up 8.9 per cent; three-quarters of them, or 3.66 million, were from mainland China – a surge of 10.1 per cent.

Some 2.3 million of the total arrivals stayed overnight, up 6.5 per cent, and about 1.4 million of them were from across the border.

China’s “Golden Week” is a biannual event, taking place over the Lunar New Year period in January or February, and the week of National Day on October 1.

Labour Day, on the other hand, was traditionally a single-day holiday, but many companies give their employees a longer break. That allows holidaymakers to make quick getaway trips to Hong Kong or Macau instead of long-haul travel destinations.

Tourism is seen as one of the four pillars of Hong Kong’s economy – in 2016, tourists spent HK$296 billion in the city, accounting for 11.9 per cent of gross domestic product that year. 

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Tourists have gradually started returning to the city, with anti-mainland sentiment among Hongkongers complaining of overcrowding and a strain on resources having died down from its peak in 2015.

The impact of cash-rich shoppers was evident in Tsim Sha Tsui on Monday, as the streets were filled with mainland visitors lugging their purchases in suitcases and backpacks.

Sunny Zhang, from Ningbo city in eastern Zhejiang province, had bought so much that he was using a courier to take his shopping home across the border.

The 28-year-old computer engineer said he planned to spend HK$30,000 during his three-day visit.

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“I can buy almost anything in Shanghai, which is three hours away from my hometown, but I still like to visit Hong Kong because of the better service,” he said.

It was bustling business, too, at Sau Fun Street in Yuen Long, home to at least a dozen pharmacies offering goods popular with mainland tourists, from medicine and infant formula to cosmetics and snacks.

Yang Chen, from Shenzhen, said she was taking advantage of the three-day break to stock up on daily necessities.

“I come once every three or four months, but usually the shops in Hong Kong have bigger discounts during Golden Week so I came to try my luck,” she said.

But about a 15-minute drive away in San Tin, near the Lok Ma Chau border checkpoint, a HK$150 million shopping mall designed to lure mainland visitors was almost empty over the weekend.

A staff member of the Boxes outlet-style mall, who did not wish to be named, said: “Most visitors are actually Hongkongers … they come here mainly to see what this is about.” 

While individual visitors were flocking to Hong Kong, travel agencies reported a drop in group tours. Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association chairman Paul Leung Yiu-lam said he was expecting 180 to 200 inbound tours per day this week, lower than the daily average of 300 tours in April.

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He blamed the drop on the shifting consumption pattern of mainland tourists, saying they preferred to visit on weekends instead.