Mainland Chinese shoppers stay clear of 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.
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 Oct 1 to Oct 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.
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.
“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,” Ms Djong said. She described it as an 80 per cent 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.