HONG KONG (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The retail market in Hong Kong is picking up, thanks to the rising number of Chinese mainland visitors.
The value of retail sales in Hong Kong for March increased 3.1 per cent from the same time a year earlier, according to data released by the government. The recovery marks the end of a 24-month run of year-on-year decline in retail sales in the city.
Local retailers are encouraged since they feel that for the first time in more than two years they are getting closer to seeing "light at the end of the tunnel".
In March, the overall number of visitor arrivals rose 8.8 per cent from a year earlier and the number of mainland travellers jumped 10.4 per cent, according to the Hong Kong Retail Management Association Chairman Thomson Cheng Wai-hung. Sales of jewellery, watches, clocks and valuable gifts - arguably favourite items for mainland shoppers - rose 8.4 per cent year on year.
So we can see the strong correlation between the number of mainland visitors and Hong Kong retail sales performance.
Cheng also said 70 per cent of retailers in the city feel optimistic about their performance this month as the number of mainland travellers who visited, and probably shopped in, Hong Kong during the May Day "Golden Week" period from April 29 to May 1 rose 3.8 per cent year on year.
Thank goodness those mainland travellers are returning to Hong Kong. The rise may be because of tension between China and South Korea or other reasons, but with Hong Kong once again being one of mainland travellers' favourite outbound destinations, things are starting to look better for the city.
So this time, Hong Kong people really need to treat visitors better - we can't afford not to. Mainland tourists are crucial to the city's retail industry, which provides tens of thousands of jobs for local people.
An owner of a local jewellery and watch store chain once told me the industry had made changes to deal with the downturn of the market; they moved a couple of their stores to meet local demand and changed the product mix.
"But you know, the profit from selling a few HK$10,000 (S$1,796) worth watches cannot match what we used to get from selling HK$500,000 watches to tourists," he said.
Hong Kong is a very mature tourism destination so it is not easy to add new tourist attractions to the city. All the city can do to attract more visitors is to treat them well.
Many of my friends who live in different mainland cities say they are reluctant to visit Hong Kong as they feel they will not be welcome here.
Hong Kong people always talk about how much they love the city. If so, think of those visitors as guests to our home and be nice to them. Don't be mad at the visitors in crowded shopping malls or the MTR, try to be helpful and understanding, and make the visitors feel they are welcome in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government should also strengthen regulation of travel agencies and crack down on those who organise tour groups with unreasonable or suspiciously low fees, so tour group members won't feel constant pressure from their tourist guides to buy things; they can be relaxed and appreciate the greatness and beauty of the city.
Finally, there is no need for local media to play up any conflicts between visitors and local residents.
The author is a business editor of China Daily Hong Kong.