Main­land tourists move HK lower on shop­ping list

Lack of in­no­va­tion cited as rea­son for de­clin­ing in­ter­est

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SO­PHIE HE in Hong Kong and SHI JING in Shang­hai

De­spite cut­ting room rates, Hong Kong ho­tels are only man­ag­ing to en­tice short-term visi­tors from the Chi­nese main­land, hote­liers said.

Now there’s grow­ing con­cern over this sit­u­a­tion, and not just among ho­tel own­ers.

Re­tail­ers, restau­rant op­er­a­tors and travel agents who have been rid­ing high on the wave of main­land visi­tors at Christ­mas and other hol­i­days are wor­ried, too. Their fear that Hong Kong would one day lose its luster to in­creas­ingly af­flu­ent, so­phis­ti­cated main­land tourists seems to have come true.

Ac­cord­ing to the Hong Kong Tourism Com­mis­sion, the num­ber of main­land visi­tors reached 34.9 mil­lion in 2012, up 12.1 per­cent year-on-year. Th­ese visi­tors ac­counted for 71.8 per­cent of tourist ar­rivals in Hong Kong last year.

But those who come are stay­ing for shorter pe­ri­ods and spend­ing less. And big spenders from Shang­hai and other ma­jor cities are find­ing Hong Kong, though com­pet­i­tive in con­ve­nience and pric­ing, a lit­tle short on chic.

Michael Li Hong-shing, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fed­er­a­tion of Hong Kong Ho­tel Own­ers, said he ex­pected the oc­cu­pancy rate dur­ing the busy Christ­mas shop­ping sea­son to reach last year’s level, which was about 80 per­cent.

Main­land visi­tors, who are ex­pected to ac­count for the ma­jor­ity of the guests, are stay­ing less than two nights on av­er­age, he said.

Out­dated im­age

Li and oth­ers in the tourism in­dus­try said this state of af­fairs re­flected a lack of in­no­va­tion in pro­mot­ing Hong Kong.

“We’ve been harp­ing on the theme of be­ing a ‘shop­ping par­adise’ for years,” Li said. It worked for quite some time, he said, but it’s get­ting “tire­some” for ev­ery­one.

Hong Kong is los­ing its at­trac­tive­ness as a “shop­ping par­adise” to New York, Paris and Mi­lan. “It’s fash­ion­able for the big main­land spenders to be seen haul­ing their ‘loot’ out of the home stores of the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion houses,” Li said.

Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group, in a sur­vey of nearly 1,000 mid­dle-class main­lan­ders, said that Hong Kong fell off the list of the 15 most pop­u­lar travel des­ti­na­tions.

He Ji­a­jing, 33, a house­wife in Shang­hai, used to shop in Hong Kong ev­ery month. But she doesn’t plan to go there at Christ­mas this year.

“Prices of­fered on the Chi­nese main­land are not much higher than those in Hong Kong. Even though I have an apart­ment in Shen­zhen, which means I can go to Hong Kong eas­ily, I don’t bother nowa­days. As I’ve al­ready ob­tained a Cana­dian green card, I would rather go to Canada or Europe for Christ­mas shop­ping,” she said.

As Chi­nese tourists be­come more so­phis­ti­cated, shop­ping is no longer their prime rea­son to travel. More of them want to en­joy leisure ac­tiv­i­ties and ex­pe­ri­ence ex­otic cul­tures dur­ing their trips, ac­cord­ing to Vin­cent Lui, a part­ner at BCG.

About four in 10 peo­ple picked Hong Kong as their top out­bound travel desti­na­tion over the past three years. Thai­land, Ma­cao and South Korea also ranked highly, the sur­vey said.

But the city dropped to No 10 on the list when re­spon­dents were asked about the next desti­na­tion they wanted to visit. Eight of the 10 most de­sired des­ti­na­tions were out­side Asia.

Li Ai­jia, a wine taster in Shang­hai, used to fly to Hong Kong ev­ery year dur­ing the sales sea­son at the end of the year. But this time around, she’s “bored” by the prospect.

“Ja­pan seems to me a much bet­ter choice now, be­cause there are a lot more things to buy. For the pur­pose of pure travel, I would def­i­nitely opt for South­east Asian coun­tries, which are so much more fun than Hong Kong,” Li said.

What’s more, many main­land shop­pers are be­gin­ning to feel the need for re­straint in light of the na­tion’s eco­nomic slow­down. The pro­longed stock mar­ket slump isn’t help­ing, ei­ther.

Jiang Xue, a sales man­ager at a tex­tile ma­chin­ery man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany in Wuxi, Jiangsu prov­ince, de­cided not to go to Hong Kong this year. Us­ing an over­seas shop­ping agent is more con­ve­nient — and cheaper. “Adding in the air tick­ets, go­ing to Hong Kong for Christ­mas shop­ping is to­tally un­eco­nom­i­cal,” she said.

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