There has been no shortage of ink spilt in recent years about the negative impact of China’s anti-corruption crusade on Hong Kong’s retail sector.
Visitor arrivals from the PRC represented 76 per cent of all tourists in 2016, when those numbers fell 6.7 per cent. Taken with aggressive campaigns to lure mainland tourists elsewhere — Japan, Singapore, South Korea — and a strong Hong Kong dollar, life has become harder for the SAR’s retailers and landlords.
Or has it?
Despite currency fluctuations and fleeing Chinese travellers, overnight visitors to Hong Kong spent an average of approximately HK$6600 a head during their stays, funnelling nearly $300 billion in related capital into the economy that year according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board — and that was down from 2015. Though Mainland Chinese arrivals declined, short-haul markets (Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand) registered an increase of 3.4 per cent, long-haul market arrivals (the US, Australia) rose by 2.3 per cent, and MICE and cruise passenger visits increased by 10 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.
People are still coming to Hong Kong – and they’re still shopping.
Put very simply, Hong Kong’s one-two punch of consumer-friendly retailing and a great deal to offer visitors seeking to complement their shopping are the primary reasons the retailing scene remains vibrant. An open door business policy and historical connections make international brands a must-stop for regional expatriates and curious regional visitors alike. Stop outside a Marks & Spencer Food Hall on any given afternoon if you need proof.
The new Italian outlet mall, Florentia Village, at Kwai Chung and the imminent Citygate expansion add to choices for bargain hunters, alongside guidebook hotspots like Ladies’ Street. An added bonus: all of this is free of sales tax. In some form, 12 per cent is added to goods in the Philippines, Koreans and Australians can pay as much as 10 per cent in levies, the Japanese 8 per cent and Thais 7 per cent according to tax advisory Deloitte. Twelve cents may not be a lot on a dollar, but it makes an enormous difference on a genuine Prada handbag.
A travel ban that actually benefits Hong Kong…
While it’s true the recent diplomatic spat between China and South Korea over defence deployment has proven a boon to Hong Kong shopping (Chinese travel to Korea fell 40 per cent in the year to April 2017 on the back of Beijing directives to halt travel packages to the Hermit Kingdom) it is in all likelihood a temporary glitch.
Ultimately it is the city’s extras that keep Hong Kong a shopping option. When not browsing boutiques, stellar food and beverage breaks are available at every turn, and leisure parks, cultural outlets, nature and excursions can all be found in an easily navigable, compact space.
If there’s a silver lining to the city’s retail property woes it’s the newly available space for international restaurant groups to move into. Finding room on the dining scene so far this year are Japan’s Michelin-starred ramen eatery Tsuta, fresh-local burger shack Honbo, Royal favourite Thai Brassiere by Blue Elephant, Moi Moi by Vietnamese Sydney celebrity chef Luke Nguyen, Lilya Moroccan Lounge and Bar and venerable American dessert cafe The Cheesecake Factory are just a few. Anyone travelling with children (cruise operators are quick to point out the burgeoning family demographic) will be glad to have the amusements at Hong Kong Disneyland and perennially popular Ocean Park — with real animals — an MTR ride away.
Art & culture
Admittedly not everyone travels to Hong Kong with family or has a soft spot for amusement parks, and for those shoppers the SAR’s reputation as a cultural wasteland is quickly disappearing. The two-year old PMQ regeneration has put local, artisanal and independent design a shoppers’ fingertips, and the forthcoming West Kowloon Cultural District has just opened its first gallery: M+. Soon to be a few minutes’ walk from the PMQ is the Central Police Station redevelopment on Hollywood Road, Tai Kwun. The 16 buildings will comprise art galleries, boutiques, dining, and leisure spaces with an eye towards highlighting local heritage. Tai Kwun and the WKCD are set to be destinations in of themselves.
Need some hiking and more?
Finally, tourists are drawn to Hong Kong from around the world for its renowned urban hiking, traversing over 250km on just the Hong Kong, Lantau, Wilson and MacLehose routes. In no other city in the world can you be on a lush, seemingly remote trail one minute, and ensconced in the glamorous shopping of the Landmark an hour later.
Also an hour away: Macau, which beckons as a Disneyland for adults, where luxury spas and more Michelin-starred dining awaits. It’s no surprise shopping in Hong Kong is as healthy as ever.