Chinese tourists target Hong Kong's better deals

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The Independent Online

The spending power of your average mainland Chinese tourist has so enthralled Hong Kong that shopkeepers are now making the ability to speak fluent Mandarin a must when they are hiring new staff.

And it is little wonder.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association has reported that sales in the areas most favored by mainland Chinese tourists all swelled in 2009.

Jewelry and watch purchases were up 47.4 percent, electrical goods up 16.2 percent and clothing up 16 percent.

Overall it was estimated that mainland Chinese spent 42 billion yuan (4.5 billion euros) in Hong Kong in 2009 - a rise of 54 percent, year on year.

The reason, retailers say, is that Hong Kong's prices are far more user friendly - there's no consumption tax or import duties, factors which sometime see mainland Chinese paying 30 percent more for their luxury items.

There's that, say the customers, and then there's the choice available.

"There are more brands in Hong Kong,'' mainland Chinese shopper Emily Dong told the China Daily newspaper. "Even for the same brand, the range of products is wider and the style is different.''

Hong Kong has on average increased the floor space in its sprawling shopping malls by 1.7 million square feet, the thinking being that if you build them, they will shop.

And it's a trend being followed all around the world.

The New York Tourism Board's China office reported at the weekend that 1,200 mainland Chinese visited their city over the February 14 to February 20 Chinese New Year period - and that they spent US$6 million (4.4 million euros) while they were there, mostly on luxury items.

And they are still celebrating the advent of the Year of the Tiger in France after it was revealed Chinese visitors now spend more than anyone else.

A report by Global Refund - a company that charts the tax-free spending habits of tourists all over the world - claimed in January that Chinese tourists spent 155 million euros in France last year, knocking the Russians (112 million euros) from their spot as top-spenders. Coming in third were Japanese tourists, with 99 million euros for the year.

For France, that figure represents 15 percent all money spent by tourists in 2009 - with 87 percent of that 155 million being spent on luxury items such as shoes and handbags, and a stunning 93 percent of it all spent during trips to Paris.

A spokesman from the state-run China International Travel Service said that Chinese tourists were different in that they spent on a whim, rather than setting out a shopping list before they traveled.

"Many Chinese tourists bought everything they thought is cheaper than at home,'' the spokesperson said.