Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters have vowed to hijack mainland China’s mini “golden week” holiday by supporting local businesses with the same political views.
For the first time in 16 years, the city’s tourism and retail industries are bracing for a grim outlook for the five-day break, which begins on Friday, and is predicted to be far quieter with visitors across the border expected to stay away.
Restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic mean that almost anyone entering the city is required to be quarantined for 14 days.
An online campaign called “Hongkonger's 5.1 Golden Week” to be launched on Thursday is bringing a new twist to the traditional peak time, with at least 1,500 shops including restaurants, leather crafters, beauty and wedding businesses, slashing prices to drum up customers.
Some companies have advertised that when customers raise five fingers on a hand, and one finger on the other, symbolising the prominent protest slogan “five demands, not one less”, they can enjoy special prices, such as a 10 per cent discount.
“We plan to make ‘five one’ a taboo phrase [in mainland China] through linking ‘five demands, not one less’ with ‘5.1 golden week’”, said the campaign spokesman.
The event was part of an ongoing movement called the “yellow economic circle”, supporters of which advocate spending money in stores that support the protests, and shunning those that do not. Store that support the establishment and the police are deemed to be blue.
Noting a lot of yellow businesses were in danger of closing, organisers hope the four-day event could help them survive during the rest of the pandemic, which has taken a heavy toll on Hong Kong’s economy.
“Because Hongkongers still have a weak consumer sentiment, we hope to offer incentives for them to spend money by having lots of yellow shops offering discounts,” the spokesman said.
A regular supporter of the circle, Mike Yim, 25, from the banking sector, called the idea creative and said he would join the campaign to keep the social movement’s momentum going.
He said he planned to spend HK$200 per meal each day in restaurants supporting the protests during the event.
“I quite like the idea, in a sense that you take back the ownership of this public holiday, which was used to be a public holiday occupied by mainlanders,” he said. “I have a feeling that I am taking back a place that belongs to me.”
So far, more than 1,100 businesses have signed up for the campaign and organisers hope between 1,500 and 2,000 eventually take part.
Milky Wong, 26, owner of vegetarian restaurant hkveganshop in Wan Chai, is one of them.
Wong said sales at her outlet dropped at least 30 per cent after Covid-19 hit the city in late January, compared with normal times, because many employees worked from home.
She hopes the campaign would promote independent businesses.
Young entrepreneur Mandy Lee, 23, believes it could be an opportunity to gain visibility for her new business.
Lee recently started an online shop selling cosmetic and skincare products from a Taiwanese brand.
“Due to the pandemic, maybe there are less chances to consume in the yellow economic circle, so maybe this activity can ignite everyone’s passion,” she said.
Despite the growing sentiment online, business experts said the campaign could only offer limited help to the whole local retail industry.
Simon Lee Siu-po, co-director of the international business and Chinese enterprise programme at Chinese University (CUHK), said if the firms had fine products or high levels of service, the campaign could make their brands more well known.
But Lee said the activities could hardly compensate for the spending of mainland Chinese tourists, who came in large numbers and tended to buy luxury products such as designer bags, jewellery and cosmetics.
Last year, nearly 1 million mainland Chinese arrivals flooded into the city between May 1 and May 4. Mainland Chinese visitors were the largest group of visitors, accounting for about 80 per cent of the city’s tourist arrivals last year.
“The business figure [drawn by the campaign] is too small to bring a recovery to the retail market,” Lee said.
Mainland Chinese tourists started to visit the city after the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003. At that time, Beijing encouraged them to spend in Hong Kong to boost the sagging economy. Previously, they could either come in tour groups or with a business visa.
CUHK economist Terence Chong Tai-leung agreed. He said local residents had a shorter break compared with mainlanders, because of the difference in holidays between the two places.
“The traffic flow and the amount of money spent are different. For a mainland Chinese tourist, they may spend HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 in the city. But how can an ordinary local resident spend HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 a day?” he said.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the shopping event might undermine the government’s bid to avoid new infections.
“There also should not be any further splits in society by differentiating between ‘yellow’ or ‘blue’ shops,” he added.
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