Retailers, traders cheer as wealthy mainland Chinese tourists shop
( 2003-08-24 14:44) (AP)
Eager for fine dining and designer labels, tens of thousands of wealthy mainland Chinese tourists have poured into Hong Kong since Beijing eased travel restrictions last month.
And businesses here - still reeling from the SARS crisis - are welcoming these visitors with open arms, hoping their shopping spree will help boost Hong Kong's lagging economy.
``They come here for our royal crabs, stone fish and oysters. And most of them have table wine or brandy with dinner,'' said Joyce Wong, a spokeswoman for Super Star Seafood Restaurant.
Mainland diners are spending up to 600 Hong Kong dollars (US$77) per head, three times more than what locals usually fork out for dinner, she added.
Tourists from the mainland say goods sold in Hong Kong are cheaper and of better quality. So they're snapping up luxury items _ Rolex and Cartier watches, Gucci bags, Chanel fashion, Christian Dior make-up, and Tiffany jewelry _ as well as Nike sneakers and Sony and Panasonic cameras.
``I have bought along many empty bags. I am getting ready to buy as many things as I can,'' said a housewife from the nearby city of Guangzhou, who would only gave her surname, Wang, upon arrival in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Another Guangzhou resident, Chen Wei-zhen, 53, said she plans to spend more than HK$10,000 (US$1,300) on golden necklaces and diamond rings during her visit to the territory.
Once a thriving financial hub, Hong Kong never fully recovered from the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed 299 people and prompted travel warnings, dealt a body blow to an economy already grappling with record unemployment and deflation.
Tackling the economic woes, mainland and Hong Kong authorities last month announced that residents of four cities in neighboring Guangdong province would be allowed to apply for individual travel permits to this former British colony from July 28. Previously, they were only permitted to come here in tour groups.
Although Hong Kong is part of China, tight border controls remain in place since Britain returned the former colony to Beijing six years ago. Mainlanders, who make up around half of the territory's tourists, still need visas to visit Hong Kong.
Since the rules were relaxed, around 30,000 mainland visitors have traveled to Hong Kong, authorities say. More are expected when visa regulations are eased for people in Beijing, Shanghai and three more Guangdong cities on Sept. 1.
Authorities are also mulling extending the new visa requirements to other mainlanders, including those in the booming southern coastal province of Fujian.
Financial Secretary Henry Tang credited a recent tourism rebound to the mainland tourists.
"These mainland visitors spend more and stay longer than average visitors," Tang said Friday. "It ignites our retail and catering sector and the local consumption market."
Officials and retailers are anticipating a further recovery in tourism and related sectors, which in good times, employs 366,000 people and generates at least 6 percent of Hong Kong's economic growth.
Although the tourists can only legally bring 6,000 yuan (HK$5,600, or US$720) in cash for each visit, most admit they have much more, and they're spending it.
An employee at an outlet of Luk Fook Jewelry chain, who only gave her surname Wong, said mainland tourists often spend more than HK$100,000 (US$12,800) on a single purchase, making business now better than even before SARS hit.
One mainland visitor bought five Hong Kong apartments for more than HK$2 million (US$260,000), giving a long-awaited confidence boost to the sagging property market, said Wong Leung-sing, a researcher at the Centaline Property Agency Ltd.
But Wong and other analysts warned the mainland tourists are only providing a temporary jolt and a sustained recovery depends on more fundamental changes.
Chinese visitors only account for 15 percent to 20 percent of Hong Kong's retail consumption, noted Dao Heng Bank economist Daniel Chan.
"It's hard to see significant change in the short run as long as our basic fundamentals are unchanged," he said.
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