HK residents’ northward trend boosts consumption in Mainland, Wong Ka-wo urges improved service attitude in local restaurants

Simon Wong

10th April 2024 – (Hong Kong) Simon Wong Ka-wo, the president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, believes that the restaurant industry must improve its services as more Hong Kongers head to Mainland during holidays. In a recent radio program, he shared his “painful experience” of encountering rude service at a restaurant in Central just a few days ago. He even took the manager aside and lectured them for ten minutes. When asked if the staff was impolite to everyone, Wong jokingly replied, “Maybe they didn’t recognise me! It made me very unhappy, so I lectured the manager for ten minutes. I told them that their attitude is driving away customers. I’m currently spending money at your establishment, and I’m teaching you a lesson! If you want to be in this industry, your service attitude and overall restaurant operations must be good. Otherwise, you’re just driving customers away!”

During the recent Easter holiday, over 1.16 million people travelled in and out of Hong Kong, with more than 700,000 being Hong Kong residents leaving the city. Simon Wong Ka-wo, in an interview with New Town Radio this morning, stated that residents travelled north for consumption and Southeast Asia and Japan for vacations during the Easter period. This directly impacted the local food and beverage, retail, and tourism industries. The restaurant industry experienced a decline in business during Easter, with a daytime drop of 20-30% and an even more significant decrease of at least 40% during the evenings.

Hong Kong recently hosted a series of art events, including Art Basel and the International Rugby Sevens tournament. When asked if these events attracted a significant number of visitors and stimulated the economy, Wong quoted Financial Secretary Paul Chan’s blog, stating that Art Basel and Art Central attracted 80,000 visitors. He said, “If we compare 80,000 visitors to the 760,000 Hong Kong residents who left Hong Kong on the first day, and more than 400,000 Hong Kong residents who left on the second day, it means that a total of 1.35 million residents left Hong Kong!”

Wong believes that even these large-scale events fail to attract a substantial number of visitors, especially mainland Chinese tourists. He mentioned that during the three-day International Rugby Sevens tournament, although there were a total of 100,000 spectators, only 40% were overseas visitors, while the rest were Hong Kong residents and overseas individuals working in Hong Kong. He said, “Only 16,000 overseas visitors watched the Rugby Sevens.”

However, Wong acknowledged that these overseas visitors benefited restaurants near the sports venues. He revealed that he visited Lan Kwai Fong during the Rugby Sevens and noted that the second day saw a decent flow of people, but it was noticeably less crowded compared to past Halloween celebrations. After the final day of the tournament, Lan Kwai Fong returned to a relatively quiet state. He commented, “The music was great, but the crowd was relatively sparse.”

Regarding how the restaurant industry copes during the off-peak seasons, Wong mentioned that March was challenging, with around 300 restaurants closing due to poor business. He anticipated an even quieter period in April, as there are no significant holidays following the Ching Ming Festival. He expects more tourists to arrive after Mother’s Day and the summer holidays. Wong said, “April is a difficult month for us. We anticipate a higher number of closures compared to March.”

Despite this, Wong believes that government-promoted events and regional activities can attract crowds. However, he observed that during the Hong Kong Night Market, the streets were relatively quiet in the evenings. Many restaurants have expressed their inability to generate business during both lunch and dinner hours. Wong believes that this issue is difficult to address since a significant number of residents are heading north for consumption. While around 150,000 to 160,000 Hong Kong residents travel to mainland China on weekdays, the number of mainland Chinese tourists coming to Hong Kong is only 80,000 to 100,000. He lamented the high operating costs, including salaries and ingredients, and suggested that the industry should improve its services.