9th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) As the Dragon Boat Festival long weekend begins, the familiar sight of teeming crowds surging northward across the border painted a disheartening picture for Hong Kong’s struggling tourism and retail sectors. Despite the government’s best efforts to revive the ailing industries through initiatives like the recently launched “Let’s Go the Extra Mile” campaign, the northbound exodus of locals continued unabated, exposing deep-rooted issues that may impede any genuine revival.

The numbers speak volumes: on the Friday preceding the long weekend, a staggering 85,100 Hong Kong residents departed via the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint, a 29% increase compared to an average Friday. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge saw 36,600 outbound travellers, a whopping 61% surge, while the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line recorded 68,000 departures, reflecting a 21.4% uptick. With Friday being a regular workday, experts predicted that the peak of the outbound wave would crest on Saturday, further exacerbating the lopsided flow of human traffic.

This imbalance has become an inescapable reality, revealing a sharp divide between the northbound desires of Hong Kong residents and the dwindling influx of Mainland visitors. From May 2022 to April 2023, a staggering 74.6 million Hong Kong residents traversed land border checkpoints to mainland China and Macao, while only 28.19 million mainland tourists ventured in the opposite direction – a monthly average deficit exceeding 3.86 million travellers. As this chasm widens, Hong Kong’s tourism, retail, and dining sectors find themselves increasingly mired in a quagmire of declining fortunes, begging the question: what can these industries do to arrest their descent?

The crux of Hong Kong’s predicament lies in its stubborn “living off the past” mentality, with many refusing to adapt to evolving trends and maintaining an air of misplaced superiority. The abysmal attitude of certain eateries towards customers has become a widespread grievance, drawing scathing criticism from mainland and Taiwanese tourists alike, with even locals lamenting the discourteous service they endure despite paying premium prices. Yet, vast swathes of the industry remain obstinately resistant to change, defiantly asserting their practices are beyond reproach. In the face of Shenzhen’s ascendancy, offering superior value and customer service, Hong Kong’s steadfast reluctance to evolve can only lead to its inevitable obsolescence.

The retail sector finds itself similarly cornered, as the allure of luxury brand-name stores has waned for mainland visitors, who now embrace a more frugal, experiential approach to travel. Ironically, mainland retailers have seized this opportunity to encroach upon Hong Kong’s market, with e-commerce giants like Taobao becoming an indispensable part of many locals’ daily lives. Even the recently hyped Sam’s Club retail chain has made inroads into Hong Kong through its online presence, enticing customers with the promise of “order today, delivery tomorrow.” Alarmingly, Hong Kong’s total retail sales value plummeted by 14.7% year-on-year in April, with even the previously resilient supermarket sector suffering a 3% annual decline – a grim portent of further hardship to come.

In this constantly shifting landscape, Hong Kong’s past prowess in offering affordable, high-quality goods has been usurped, a stark reminder that fortunes can indeed reverse. The perplexing reality, however, lies in the lingering sense of self-satisfaction that permeates not only recalcitrant businesses but also the government itself. Whenever external criticism emerges regarding the administration’s lofty yet ineffective attempts to promote tourism, the predictable “rebuttal squad” springs into action, dismissing any acknowledgement of shortcomings. As one observer astutely noted, the government persistently cites its own commissioned surveys to rebut claims, insisting that mainland visitor satisfaction with Hong Kong remains consistently high. However, findings from the China Tourism Academy paint a starkly contrasting picture, revealing a precipitous decline in mainland tourist satisfaction – from the top spot to a dismal seventh place, while Macau has ascended to the coveted number one position. With such an entrenched “greater Hong Kong” mindset, how can the city realistically aspire to rise from the ashes and overcome its current plight?

Amidst this northbound tide, an increasingly prevalent trend has emerged – a growing number of Hong Kong residents are venturing across the border to seek medical treatment, driven by the substantial cost disparities between the two regions. As for industries where Hong Kong still retains a competitive edge, education may be the sole remaining bastion. Instead of trumpeting conventions and exhibitions as major events, the government would be better served by exploring collaborative opportunities with local universities to attract a greater influx of Mainland and international students to pursue studies in Hong Kong.

The “Let’s Go the Extra Mile” campaign, represents a laudable effort to instil a renewed sense of courtesy and hospitality within the catering, retail, and taxi sectors. However, its ultimate success hinges on a fundamental shift in mindset – a willingness to shed complacency and actively embrace change. Hong Kong’s businesses must rise to the challenge, transcending their stubborn adherence to outdated practices and genuinely strive to provide exemplary service that resonates with modern consumer sensibilities.