Nearly half a million mainland Chinese visitors arrived in Hong Kong over the long weekend break but double the number of residents headed elsewhere, as restaurants reported a boost in business helped mostly by more locals eating out.
Economists and industry experts on Monday said challenges remained in attracting visitors, including mainland tourists being price-conscious, while regional competition, fewer flights and a strong Hong Kong dollar were also hurdles.
Immigration Department statistics showed 459,449 people from the mainland visited the city from Friday to Sunday, accounting for 87 per cent of total arrivals over the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day long weekend. The daily peak was 177,770 on Sunday.
However, 989,071 residents departed Hong Kong over the three days. Of those, 87 per cent entered the mainland via land checkpoints.
Taking into account returning residents and departing tourists, the city recorded a net outflow of 482,652 people over the long weekend. More than 1.19 million people arrived in the city while 1.39 million left.
Economist Simon Lee Siu-po, an honorary fellow at the Asia-Pacific Institute of Business at Chinese University, said a weaker yuan was making it more expensive to buy things in Hong Kong.
He noted the city was also competing with the mainland’s tropical island province of Hainan – a tourist hub and shopping mecca that has ambitions to become the world’s largest free-trade port by 2025.
“Catering revenue in Hong Kong could be close to pre-Covid levels during the holiday, but retail is still far from pre-pandemic levels. Products are cheaper in Hainan, other Asian cities and by online purchase,” he said.
Billy Mak Sui-choi, an associate professor with the department of accountancy, economics and finance at Baptist University, said challenges remained in attracting both overseas and mainland tourists, including fewer flights to Hong Kong contributing to higher air fares.
He also said some local restaurants might not benefit much due to changes in the behaviour of mainland tourists, as some were keen to find food outlets off the beaten track via social media.
“The famous and Michelin-starred restaurants will definitely benefit from the incoming tourists but the mass market, including fast-food restaurants, may not benefit, as most of their consumers are local citizens,” he said.
Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades president Simon Wong Ka-wo said total revenue over the first three days of the “golden week” National Day holiday was HK$1.2 billion (US$153 million), a 50 per cent increase compared with last year and in line with his prediction on Friday.
Dinner bookings accounted for almost 70 per cent of the total turnover, he added.
“I noticed that people used to stay at home, especially the seniors, but they came out to join the fun. That accounts for the growth in business, despite many residents travelling to the Greater Bay Area or Shenzhen,” he said.
Wong said outlets that had aggressively promoted offers would have better business, while Chinese restaurants in particular enjoyed a boost because of banquets and family gatherings over the holiday weekend.
In a bid to reenergise the after-dark economy and combat the post-pandemic trend of locals spending and dining earlier, the government recently launched a “Night Vibes” campaign which includes bazaars and extended shopping hours.
Over the long weekend, Sun Hung Kai Real Estate Agency’s 15 shopping centres recorded year-on-year increases in footfall and sales of 20 per cent.
New World Development’s K11 Musea and K11 Art Mall in Tsim Sha Tsui recorded foot traffic over the three days that reached record highs, while sea-view restaurants were also fully booked on Sunday night, according to a group spokesman.
Nathan Green, group executive chef at Octavo, said mainland tourists were noticeable in Kowloon, and the firm’s Kilo Steakhouse in the K11 Musea mall was fully booked on Saturday and Sunday while its restaurants in Central were quiet.
“Most of the business feels like its Tsim Sha Tsui side. Kowloon is picking up, I think it’s a lot to do with mainland tourism and it is a younger crowd,” he said.
Ray Chui Man-wai, chairman of Kam Kee Holdings, which runs 44 restaurants with about 1,000 employees, said business over the holiday grew by 20 to 25 per cent compared with the same period last year.
He also noted that while there were significantly more mainland customers this holiday since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, their consumption was not strong with a focus on low- to mid-range types.
“Turnover is currently less than 60 per cent of what it was in 2018. The recovery takes time,” he added.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Ma