2nd April 2024 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong’s once vibrant dining landscape is facing an existential crisis as locals increasingly flock across the border for cheaper thrills, indulging in an emerging phenomenon dubbed “northbound consumption.” The recent Easter break served as a stark reminder of this growing trend, with a staggering 1.5 million Hong Kongers crossing into mainland China during the first three days alone, leaving many local restaurants struggling to stay afloat.

The impact on the city’s food and beverage industry has been nothing short of devastating. The Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades revealed that business during the Easter period plummeted, with daytime revenues plunging by at least 20% and evening sales dropping a staggering 40% or more. This exodus of locals seeking cheaper indulgences across the border has left restaurateurs reeling, forcing some longstanding establishments to make the painful decision to shut their doors for good.

Adding to the woes, mainland Chinese visitors, once considered big spenders keen on luxury shopping in Hong Kong, are now also curbing their expenditures. Industry watchers note that since the border fully reopened, these tourists have been opting for cheaper experiences rather than splurging on high-end goods as they did pre-pandemic. The rise of duty-free shopping in destinations like Hainan has further diminished Hong Kong’s erstwhile appeal as a shopping paradise.

One poignant example is a 40-year-old eatery in To Kwa Wan, where the owner lamented, “Hong Kong lacks a consumption atmosphere, and business is even worse during holidays.” Meanwhile, a 15-year-old Chinese restaurant in Wan Chai closed its doors, with the owner’s haunting words echoing the industry’s plight: “The food and beverage business is so difficult, no matter what we do, we’re dying.”

Even establishments once considered pillars of Hong Kong’s culinary heritage are not immune to this devastating trend. The “King Ludwig Beerhall” and “Ocean Rock Seafood & Tapas” in Stanley Plaza will also close down by mid-April, according to online reports. The thought of such a revered institution succumbing to the “lack of visitors” is deeply unsettling, begging the question: Is Hong Kong still worthy of a “love affair” for the city’s literati and cultured class?

Industry insiders point out that while last year’s post-pandemic Easter saw a 30% decline in business, there were still many locals who chose to indulge in the city’s offerings. However, as northbound consumption has become a way of life, with overseas travel now a routine for many residents, it is the high-end restaurants that bear the brunt of the impact, as those crossing the border tend to be the city’s more affluent consumers.

While major events may drive some tourist and local spending, the benefits are largely confined to eateries in West Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui, and the harbourfront areas. Recent months have seen a wave of closures, particularly in the northern districts, with estimates suggesting that between 200 and 300 restaurants have shuttered across Hong Kong in the past month alone. If this trend persists, the government’s efforts to cultivate a “vibrant day and night” atmosphere, complete with monthly fireworks displays, may amount to little more than “a deaf man’s cannon, yielding only smoke.”

In the face of this existential crisis, the harsh reality of “survival of the fittest” looms large. As locals venture northward not just for dining and entertainment but also for groceries, manicures, eye exams, and dental check-ups, Hong Kong’s entire retail and service industry finds itself in dire straits. While some netizens have called for locals to support the city’s struggling economy by spending at home, the response has been largely muted, with many vowing not to “weather the difficult times together” and even coldly remarking that “closing down is better than dying.”

Critics argue that the city’s dining industry has brought this predicament upon itself, citing unreasonable prices and poor service as deterrents to repeat patronage. They contend that the industry has reached a point where transformation is inevitable, necessitating a culling of the weak to allow the strong to thrive. The message is clear: improve food quality, service standards, and value for money, or face the domino effect of widespread closures.

As Hong Kong’s dining scene teeters on the edge, its future hinges on the ability to recapture the hearts and wallets of its residents. Can the city’s culinary landscape reinvent itself, or will it succumb to the allure of cheaper pastures across the border? The stakes have never been higher for an industry that once defined Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan charm.