Oct 2, 2014
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Mainland Chinese shoppers stay clear of Hong Kong

Oct 2, 2014

HONG KONG - Sleek luxury store fronts plastered with political slogans and shops eerily empty of customers: the scenes in protest-gripped Hong Kong have left unsuspecting mainland Chinese visitors stunned in peak holiday season.

(Source : Afp)

With access to information about the pro-democracy demonstrations severely restricted in China, many had no idea that streets usually teeming with traffic and tourists had been brought to a standstill.

Nearly half a billion Chinese were expected to travel during the week-long Golden Week national holiday, from October 1-7, with many visiting Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

"I think they are protesting. To express dissatisfaction with society, is it?" Huang Xiao-ming, a tourist from Guangzhou, China, asked AFP as she wandered through one of the protest sites in the commercial hub of Tsim Sha Tsui.

"I really have no idea. It's my first day in Hong Kong and I wondered what was happening, so I came here to see it myself."

Beijing has heavily censored all coverage of the protests on the mainland, blocking social media sites and removing from websites any content related to the protests that is critical of Beijing.

But the message is obviously filtering through to some, as retailers and travel agents have reported a drop in numbers making the trip from China.

In one popular Kowloon shopping district, shops have been deserted with vehicle access blocked by protesters and banners reading "True democracy for Hong Kong" displayed over advertisements for luxury brands.

- China travel ban -

"It really affected business," said Merry Djong, a salesperson at jewellery and accessories shop Folli Follie, looking out over the desolate street and protest barricades.

"There have only been two to three customers today," Djong said. She described it as an 80 percent decline in business, adding that they had expected a surge of customers for Golden Week.

Tour operators told AFP that travel agents in China have been told not to arrange new group visits to the city, further affecting numbers.

"We did not receive any official advice but we have heard from the agents in mainland China (that they've been told) not to accept any new bookings," Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, told AFP.

"It (the protest) has already created a big damage to the travel industry... the total mainlander arrivals has dropped," he said, adding that group tours that had already been booked were being allowed into Hong Kong.

One woman who had travelled to Hong Kong from Shenzen to buy supplies for her baby also said she had been denied a visa to enter the semi-autonomous territory on Wednesday, but was allowed to enter Thursday.

"There were few people crossing the border. A lot of visitors were informed (that they were) not allow to come," she said, giving her name as Ms Tam, and waiting with two big boxes of nappies.

"Usually it (takes) us at least an hour to cross the border. Today it only took 15 or 20 minutes."

Mainland tourist May Yau, 23, was heading back home on Thursday a day after arriving with her husband and two children aged seven and eight for the Golden Week holiday.

"I don't think we will come again soon because of the situation," she said, adding they had spent most of the time with relatives, worried by events.

For mainlanders living in the city, the mood has been noticeable even if they have not been directly affected.

"Some friends who haven't been in touch for a long time contacted me and told me to stay safe, don't go home late," said Chinese university student Tizzi Ruan, 22, who has avoided the Central area for two days.

Others have even popped across the border not to shop but to join the protests -- despite Beijing's information blackout.

David Zhang, 24, a software engineer from Dongguan travelled to Hong Kong by train Tuesday to take part in the demonstrations.

"I agree that everyone should have the right to elect their government," he told AFP, sporting a yellow ribbon -- a symbol of the protest movement -- on his shirt.

"It is a strong message that democracy is not brought by the Western world but by the students, the locals," he added.

by Annabel SYMINGTON, Ruby TAM

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