Hong Kong-listed snack shop chain Best Mart 360 on Tuesday opened the first of as many as 15 stores planned for Macau, as it diversifies away from the city, where 75 out of its 102 stores have been targeted by anti-government protesters over the past seven months. “We opened the first store today, the first of three. Now we will see how the business will fare. We have rented three stores in Macau. The goal is to see if we can open 15 [there],” Lin Tsz-fung, its chairman and co-founder, said in an exclusive interview. He denied the move was motivated by Beijing’s plan to develop Macau into a financial centre with its own stock exchange, and said the new opening had been planned earlier. “We hope to diversify our markets to Macau and mainland China. We think Macau has a lot of tourists,” Lin said. “We planned it many years ago.” More than 30 million tourists visited Macau in the first three quarters of 2019, a year-on-year increase of 17 per cent, thanks to the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. But tourist arrivals have declined in double digits since August, with the Hong Kong protests hitting tourism in the region. Best Mart 360, some of whose directors are members of pro-Beijing groups, has denied links with Fujian gangs that are said to have attacked anti-government protesters in Hong Kong’s North Point district in August. Meanwhile, unemployment rose in November in the consumption and tourism sector, to a three-year high of 5.2 per cent, and in the catering sector, to an eight-year high of 6.2 per cent, Law Chi-kwong, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Labour and Welfare, said on Tuesday. Hong Kong-listed Lai Sun Development said business for its retail tenants was down by 40 per cent. Hardest hit were restaurants in Causeway Bay and education centres in Sham Shui Po, where frequent protests had deterred patrons, Julian Poon, Lai Sun’s senior vice-president, said. He expected the retail market to trend downwards continuously as the protests rolled on. “Rent relief differs for every tenant,” Poon said. “Some could pay rents later, while some have rent cuts.” Hong Kong protests create space for new businesses to expand The Hong Kong Retail Management Association said this month that more than 7,000 retailers would close, with 5,600 staff being laid off, as indicated by 97 per cent of respondents to a poll it conducted. Most landlords had simply not offered enough rent reductions. For instance, Sa Sa International was targeting closing 30 out of its 118 stores next year, mainly in Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, and shift its focus to southern China, it told analysts last month. It would only consider lease renewals if landlords would slash rents by at least half when renewing leases. However, even if some landlords are willing to reduce rents by up to 60 per cent, shops might still lose money, so it will not rent any more shops. It had 4,500 staff members in September, down 200 from March. Bonjour said it could record a substantial increase in losses for the year ending December 31, 2019, compared with a loss of about HK$39.6 million (US$5.08 million) in the last financial year, in a filing to the stock exchange on Monday. Bonjour says au revoir, second major retailer to leave Causeway Bay amid protests “The Hong Kong economy saw an abrupt deterioration in the second half of 2019. Consumption and tourism related sectors were hit hard by local social incidents. Moreover, the global economic slowdown and the escalated US-China trade war weighed further on Hong Kong’s economic outlook,” Wilson Ip Chun-heng, Bonjour’s chairman and chief executive, said in the filing. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery has left 8 Russell Street vacant for more than a month, even after it committed to a lease months before Bonjour, the previous tenant, left.