Malls look to diversify as numbers of non-mainland tourists grow

Shopping mall operators told to take note of growing number of visitors from other countries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 4:25am

Mainland visitors have been the defining feature of Hong Kong's tourism market over the past decade.

While the trend is expected to continue, some property consultants say it may be worth taking a look at visitors from other countries and their spending and accommodation patterns, as operators of shopping centres seek to diversify their shopper profile.

Russian and Indian tourists, in particular, are expected to grow in numbers.

Hong Kong received more than 40 million mainland tourists last year - 13 per cent more than in 2012 - representing 75 per cent of all arrivals, said Simon Smith, a senior director of research and consultancy at Savills.

But Smith said a third of overnight visitors last year originated from places other than the mainland, not an insignificant number.

"Given domestic conditions of rising incomes, more leisure time and fewer political and bureaucratic hurdles to overseas travel, it is fair to assume that these numbers will increase over time," he said.

Russia and India stood near the bottom of the list of sources of overnight visitor arrivals last year. But the number of Russian tourists jumped 16 per cent from 2012 to 146,221 and the number of Indians grew 5 per cent to 284,607.

Both groups grew faster than those from other countries, according to Savills.

Since the implementation of the visa-free policy for Russian visitors in 2009 and with more direct flights from St Petersburg, Moscow, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, Hong Kong has experienced an increase in the number of Russian tourists, with a higher growth rate than mainland Chinese tourists last year.

Tom Gaffney, the head of retail at JLL Hong Kong, agreed that the change in visa policy led to the double-digit percentage growth of Russian tourists in recent years. He expects the number to rise further if the city can maintain its economic growth.

"It could be that there are some political reasons as well," said Anatoly Valetov, the deputy head of Russia's Department for Foreign Economic Activity and International Relations.

Many Russians could be turning away from Western destinations to Asian cities because of the proposed sanctions on Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, and among those, many would choose Hong Kong because it is a big financial centre, Valetov told the South China Morning Post during a recent visit for an investment forum.

Property consultants said mall operators had yet to change their strategy or tenant mix in response to the increase in non-Chinese tourists, as mainland shoppers still dominated.

However, some market leaders in retail property are looking to cater to a more diverse group of visitors.

Stephen Ng Tin-hoi, the deputy chairman and managing director of Wharf, which owns Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui and Times Square in Causeway Bay, said this month the company wanted to attract shoppers from elsewhere to reduce its reliance on mainland travellers.

Smith said it was important to explore other potential sources of tourists.

"We believe that in addition to Russia and India, the numbers of tourists from Taiwan and South Korea are also set to rise. The spending preferences of these other nationalities, while modest compared with the dominant mainlanders, could have an impact on certain categories of mall in specific areas," he said.