October 5, 2023
HONG KONG – With the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday period, Hong Kong is experiencing a surge in visitors from the Chinese mainland, breathing life into the local economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a return to pre-COVID levels remains a distant goal, as foot traffic and sales have yet to rebound despite notable growth compared to last year, industry experts and practitioners said on Tuesday.
“The foot traffic in our pharmacy shop has seen an increase of 30 to 40 percent compared to the previous year, and a surge in revenue can be attributed to the recent rollout of the city’s ‘night economy’ initiative launched by the government,” an employee working at a drug store near the Avenue of Stars, which offers pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, food, and daily necessities for tourists, told China Daily.
“Although there has been a noticeable increase in foot traffic, we have not seen a translation of that into equivalent revenue, especially when compared to the pre-COVID era,” the employee said.
“Our store went through a period of closure during the pandemic, when we had no staff and no income. Since the reopening of borders, we have gradually recovered with the support of Chinese tourists’ patronage and increased local consumption incentivized by the consumption vouchers. However, we have not yet regained the revenue levels seen before COVID-19.”
Peter Shiu Ka-fai, a member of the Legislative Council who represents the wholesale and retail sector, said the three-day holiday in Hong Kong saw an increase in visitor numbers, featuring low double-digit growth in business within traditionally bustling areas.
While the number of visitors has reached 60 to 70 percent of the pre-pandemic level, it’s not a “full recovery” yet, possibly due to factors like limited airline capacity, he said.
According to data provided by the Hong Kong Immigration Department, as of 9 pm on Monday, nearly 850,000 cross-border trips were made through different control points over the three-day holiday period. Around 550,000 of these were arrivals, while the number of departures was 290,000.
“The retail industry weathered the storm throughout the pandemic, but now, with visitors flocking back to Hong Kong, popular tourist spots are bustling with activity. There is strong anticipation of more festive events to be held in Hong Kong, aiming to enhance its capacity and make it even more appealing to visitors,” Shiu noted.
A manager surnamed Chan of the Whole Sunshine International Hotel at Chungking Mansions, a building in Tsim Sha Tsui known for its food and cheap accommodation, said although there was a “strong” demand for hotel bookings during the National Day holiday, the footfall fell short of pre-pandemic levels.
“Before the pandemic wreaked havoc, our room rates ranged from HK$2,000 ($255) to HK$3,000 per night. Although we’ve managed to regain some momentum in our business, the current advertised room rates are now displayed at a modest HK$1,000 per night. I still remember at the peak of the pandemic, when mainland tourists were absent in Hong Kong, we had no choice but to stay open by offering monthly rentals to local residents and families,” he recalled.
“In recent years, we’ve kept a close eye on the compass of travel trends. More visitors from Hong Kong are embarking on journeys northward, sometimes outnumbering the influx of tourists venturing into Hong Kong.”
Chan said he has seen a shift in tourists’ spending patterns this year. “In the past, it was common for tourists to book rooms for a minimum of three to four days during the National Day holiday. But now, many mainland tourists opt for a short one-day stay in Hong Kong, after that they decide whether to continue their trip in the city or return to the Chinese mainland.”
The manager noted that many room bookings were last-minute decisions by tourists, and that there have been instances where orders were canceled at the last minute.
Chan remains optimistic, and expressed the hope that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government could offer incoming tourists more generous subsidies, or provide hotels with direct support.