Exclusive: Hong Kong trade chief unfazed by trend of residents heading to mainland China for leisure, dismisses business concerns, says fad will pass

Hong Kong residents will gradually tire of taking short breaks across the border and instead choose to stay and spend in the city, the city’s commerce minister said, dismissing concerns that residents’ post-Covid travel trends are hurting local businesses .

But Trade and Economic Development Minister Algernon Yau Ing-wa said Hong Kong needed to work harder to attract tourists, while noting that high airfares and hotel costs remained major constraints holding back growth in visitor numbers.

Yau spoke exclusively to the Post before heading to Shanghai on Friday to support 300 Hong Kong companies joining the China International Import Expo, which opens on Sunday for the first time since the country abandoned its zero- Covid.

Commerce Minister Algernon Yau is part of a government delegation heading to Shanghai. Photo: Jonathan Wong

He pledged to help Hong Kong firms better tap into mainland Chinese markets, saying a new government task force would tackle e-commerce pain points for merchants, from logistics and taxation to promotions.

Hong Kong’s economy continued to recover in the third quarter, but growth was sluggish, with the retail, food and catering sectors complaining that residents’ changed spending patterns were hitting business.

More locals have opted to head north for a weekend break after the lifting of Covid-related travel restrictions and as Shenzhen ramps up its efforts to attract consumers from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s John Lee says the city must “face the trend” of an outflow of residents during holidays

But in the wide-ranging interview, the trade minister dismissed the concerns of local businesses, saying the trend would be temporary.

“It’s natural for people to be hungry when they go out after Covid-19. But after a while, they will get tired of going up north,” Yau said.

“People will say what new? Nothing new anymore… [They] will settle down and then the situation will normalize. I’m not really too worried about this situation in the long term.”

The trend caught the attention of Finance Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, who acknowledged that the growing number of residents crossing the border was a new problem for the city’s economic recovery.

Hong Kongers cross the border for the National Day long weekend in search of good deals and food

For example, during the “Golden Week” National Day holiday last month, 600,000 visitors from mainland China arrived in the city in the first four days, but 1 million Hong Kong residents went elsewherewith most heading north.

Yau, the former CEO of start-up Greater Bay Airlines, said the city should focus on attracting long-haul tourists from both the mainland and overseas, although he acknowledged that high airfares and hotel costs major constraints remain inhibiting the growth of tourist arrivals before the labor crisis can be alleviated.

“Why just focus on Guangdong Province? … How about those from Shanghai, Beijing or other places? [They] are going down in the air and will not be able to return to this hometown overnight,” he said.

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Yau, offering his take on Hong Kong’s economic outlook, said it would not be “as bad as people imagine” as he sees promising investment interest from businesses in the Middle East and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations .

He also said the ongoing “Night Vibes Hong Kong” campaign has a positive “psychological effect” on residents, prompting them to stay out longer and spend locally.

Yau is a member of the government delegation that includes the city’s leader, who will fly to Shanghai on Saturday for the expo’s opening ceremony.

“There will be 300 Hong Kong companies joining and having booths there and showcasing our strength in various products and services. So we’re going there for support and there will be a lot of promotions,” he said.

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CEO John Lee Ka-chiu and CFO Chan will also attend. They will deliver speeches at the event to promote Hong Kong’s role as an important conduit between the country and the world.

Lee, in his recent policy address, announced the establishment of an interdepartmental e-commerce development task force headed by Yau to help domestic enterprises eyeing the mainland market.

Yau said he was considering creating advisory groups within the task force to gauge the views of the business sector.

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