Battling pandemic hangover, HK nightlife looks to shine again
The days of Hong Kong's bars and restaurants buzzing after a hectic workday are fading, hit by a hangover from the pandemic and the search for nightlife in neighboring Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
Many of the city's pubs and nightclubs, even in bustling business and tourism areas like Tsim Sha Tsui and Lan Kwai Fong, are seeing their customer numbers dwindle, including during happy hour.
But as Hong Kong's streets echo to fewer footsteps, in neighboring Shenzhen they are ringing to the sounds of vendors hawking their goods, food sizzling on grills and the chatter of pedestrians.
According to data from the Hong Kong Immigration Department, in July the average daily number of Hong Kong people who went to the Chinese mainland via land routes reached nearly 160,000, while the number of travelers from the mainland visiting Hong Kong by land was less than 100,000.
The same flow continued in August. By Aug 14, over 171,000 Hong Kong people traveled on average per day to the mainland, while about 118,600 people from the mainland went to the special administrative region.
Ben Leung Lap-yan, charter president of the Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong, says his own bar is seeing fewer customers and the trend has been going on for several months.
Even on Friday and Saturday nights, the capacity of his venue only reaches 50 percent. He said Hong Kong residents became accustomed to not going out at night due to the pandemic. The convenience of traveling to the mainland after the border reopening has also contributed to bars losing a significant proportion of their customer base, Leung added.
On Sunday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said in a blog post that the Hong Kong government will work with various sectors in the short term to try and revive the city's night markets. Finding new momentum for the city was a long-term consideration, he added.
Chin Chun-wing, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, which represents over 400 venues, agreed that the Hong Kong government should find ways to promote the night-market economy. Creating a vibrant nighttime shopping atmosphere will attract more people to bars, leading to a potential 20 percent increase in revenue.
Chin, also the director of the Bar Pacific Group, said the association is planning a series of nighttime activities in September, such as themed bar tours, taking tourists to lively bar areas and offering them specialty drinks, and discounts tailored to tourists from the Chinese mainland. He said the activities are mainly targeted at young visitors from the Chinese mainland.
After the border reopened, there was an increase in young visitors from the Chinese mainland. However, the numbers fell short of expectations, and were unable to mitigate the significant outbound visits by Hong Kong residents, he said.
Rayman Chui Man-wai, chairman of the Institute of Dining Professionals, said Hong Kong should designate specific areas, such as the Wan Chai promenade, for new night markets.
After the pandemic, Hong Kong residents have had few events and it is essential for the government to take the lead in revitalizing night markets.
The concept of a night-market economy should not be limited to the food and beverage sector alone, Chui said. It should include stalls selling merchandise and street performances to create a vibrant atmosphere.
Allan Zeman, chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group, said there had been a 20 percent increase in revenue from January to August in the upmarket entertainment area compared with the same period last year.
He said the increase had come from "well-dressed, generous" mainland visitors, "who love to experience something they cannot experience at home".
Zeman said the bar industry needs to be creative and provide distinctive offerings. "Even a night bazaar should be first class and unique," he said.
Anthea Cheung So-may, director of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, said in addition to the local customers, overseas consumers are also important to the city's entertainment and food industries. More large international music, sports and cultural events along with exhibitions and business conferences should be held in Hong Kong to promote economic development, she said.
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