Hong Kong businesses shut shop as city struggles to revive post pandemic

HONG KONG, April 30 (Reuters) - When Jacky Yu, 48, opened his Japanese gift shop in Hong Kong more than a decade ago, the tourist and shopping district of Mong Kok was a bustling hub packed with stalls, street food and tourists.
四月三十日,香港(Reuters)- 余先生,年四十有八,十餘年前於香港開設其日本禮品店時,旅遊購物區旺角熙熙攘攘,攤販林立,街頭小吃香氣撲鼻,遊客如織。
Fast-forward 12 years and parts of the area are struggling to stay afloat, a combination of customers emigrating, locals heading across the border to shop in China or travelling to Japan to benefit from a weak yen - and a dearth of tourists.
Yu says he's had to make the "heartbreaking" decision to close his store and move it online.
"I almost want to cry when I talk about it," said Yu, packing his unsold stationery and toys into storage boxes.
"There are very few tourists on the streets, even the mainland Chinese are very few."
Hong Kong is struggling to recover since the COVID pandemic, which saw many expatiates leave after a three year shutdown, and tourist numbers dwindle to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels. High rents and a labour shortage are now adding to the pain.
Businesses describe shopping malls as "dead", with low foot traffic and shops covered with "for lease" or "coming up soon" signs.
Edmund Wong, an accountancy sector lawmaker, told the city's legislature last Friday that more than 20,000 companies had deregistered in the first quarter of 2024, up more than 70% from the same period last year.
Simon Wong, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, told public broadcaster RTHK that he estimated around 200-300 restaurants had closed over the past month, a trend he expects to continue.
黃燊鋒,香港餐飲業聯會主席,告知公共廣播機構 RTHK,估計過去一個月已有約二至三百間餐廳結業,此種趨勢其預料將持續。
On Tuesday, Hong Kong leader John Lee played down concerns about businesses closing.
"The world is always changing, and different industries will need to adapt, so there will be operators who are not so successful but new-comers are getting into the market."
Item 1 of 5 People walk past a closed-down retail shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, China April 29, 2024. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Even with the Golden Week holiday starting on Wednesday, a traditionally busy time for shopping and entertainment, many businesses are not optimistic.
"I don’t think the Golden Week will help much," said Wendy, 54, who works at a noodle shop in Mong Kok's Ladies Market.
"吾不意黃金周能有多大幫助," 聞人五十有四曰, 彼在旺角女人街之麵店作事。
"There were many tourists on this street ... but they're gone now."
Hong Kong residents are also deserting local shops and increasingly travelling across the border to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen for food and entertainment, where they say prices and service are better.
"Hong Kong people are heading north to consume, which has become a clear trend. On weekends, many Hong Kong people go to Shenzhen for consumption," said Ting Lu, chief China economist at Nomura based in Hong Kong.
"The reason is that in the past five years, prices in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and even Changsha have hardly changed much. But in Hong Kong ... We have found that the price difference has widened, which has encouraged Hong Kong people to go north for consumption."
After Hong Kong reopened its border post-pandemic with China last year, the Tourism Board recorded a 38.9% drop in mainland visitors in 2023, compared with 2019 before the pandemic.
香港去年與中國在疫情後重新開放邊境後,旅遊局記錄到 2023 年大陸遊客比 2019 年疫情前下降了 38.9%。
Spending by same-day mainland tourists plunged 36.4% in 2023, dropping from an average of HK$2,200 per person in 2019 to HK$1,400 after the border reopened last year.
自 2023 年起,同日大陸遊客之花費骤降 36.4%,自 2019 年之人均花費港幣 2,200 元,至去年邊境重啟後降至港幣 1,400 元。
In the Hong Kong border town of Sheung Shui, where residents once used to complain about mainland Chinese overcrowding the town and pushing up rents as they flocked to buy everything from cosmetics and medicine to daily necessities, business is quiet.
Li, 30, a cosmetic shop keeper from Sheung Shui, said local consumers now tended to shop across the border in Shenzhen and the "the off-season" had now come earlier.
Lee, 35, a hamburger shopkeeper in Mong Kok district, said business had worsened since the border reopened.
"There is no one after eight o'clock, and it’s even scarier during the holidays. There are no tourists. Just like the past Easter holidays, we could sit and sleep here for three hours."

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Reporting by Jessie Pang, Joyce Zhou and Edward Cho, additional reporting by Kevin Yao in Beijing; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Michael Perry

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Thomson Reuters 汤姆森·路透社

Jessie Pang joined Reuters in 2019 after an internship. She covers Hong Kong with a focus on politics and general news.
潘婕茜于 2019 年加入路透社,曾在此实习。她以政治和一般新闻为重点,报道香港。

Thomson Reuters 汤姆森·路透

Joyce is a talented visual journalist based in Hong Kong and Greater China, driven by a profound passion for capturing historical moments and sharing stories through the medium of video. Her exceptional skills and dedication to her craft earned her the prestigious title of Reuters Video Journalist of the Year in 2019. Joyce's work revolves around documenting significant events and exploring the rich cultural tapestry of the region. Outside of her professional pursuits, she finds solace and inspiration in hiking, immersing herself in the beauty of nature. With a deep appreciation for tea, Joyce enjoys discovering its diverse flavours and delving into its rich history.
喬伊斯乃一位才情橫溢之視覺新聞工作者,駐於香港及大中華地區,心懷對捕捉歷史時刻及透過影片傳遞故事之深厚熱情。其卓越技藝與對工藝之專注,使其於 2019 年榮獲榮譽之稱號,成為路透社年度視頻新聞記者。喬伊斯之工作圍繞於記錄重要事件,並探索該地區豐富之文化織錦。在專業追求之外,她於徒步旅行中尋求慰藉與靈感,沉浸於大自然之美。喬伊斯對茶藝情有獨鍾,喜歡探索其多樣風味,並深入挖掘其豐富歷史。