'White elephant' tag for border mall

Top News | Phoenix Un Feb 15, 2018
Lok Ma Chau was supposed to have a pop-up mall to cater to stave off the mainland shopping hordes. It flopped instead. And it opened only on February 3.

The man behind it, legislator Wong Ting-kwong of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, admitted yesterday that the pop-up had popped off instead.

Out of the 216 shops in the 420,000 square feet mall, 89 have had their tenancy agreements signed but only 20 shops and three restaurants have opened at "The Boxes" in San Tin on the official soft opening day on February 3.

"It's a vicious circle, as people would find nothing to buy when they went there, and the 23 shops opened also found it difficult to keep up," Wong said.

He said only about 300 people visit daily - and most of them are local residents who drove there.

However, Wong is still confident the mall has a future. He said many people from the business sector found the development direction correct.

"Most malls, except a very few, need to withstand difficulties for a period, and I just hope that we don't need to withstand that long," Wong said.

To attract business, he and the mall management have decided to collect rent only after July 1 for all shops that opened before April 1. Currently rent is free. He had also discussed with local and mainland tourist agencies to bring in guided tour groups to the mall, and would do more promotions.

Wong hopes to have 80 percent shops opened with these moves and he called on shop owners not to have extravagant displays before starting business. "For example you don't need to have air-conditioning and signboards for the moment. We want to have more business there first."

Initial expectations were that the 216 shops would attract 9,000 visitors every weekday and 12,000 customers per day during weekends.

They estimated 85 percent of the shoppers would be tourists, mostly from across the border.

But one visitor said: "It is quickly becoming a white elephant."

Wong first came up with the idea three years ago when the issue of mainland shoppers buying up basic necessities like milk powder caused an uproar, especially in the North District.

Chinese University marketing professor Leo Sin Yat-ming said the the mall had missed the best timing for its opening.

"The peak for mainland visitors has passed and we can't tell when it will come again. It will be very difficult as it has to compete with other districts to grab visitors unless they make some breakthroughs," Sin said.

Sin outlined several aspects the mall should improve to survive - people can buy all they need, low prices, convenient transportation, enjoyable environment and good restaurants.

"How can you attract visitors when you only have about 20 shops opened?" Sin said.

Wong's rent waiver will be of little help. "Even if shop owners don't need to pay rent, they still need staff, and even if costs are low, business is still unattractive as revenue is also low," Sin said.

Tourism-sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing the mall must have more shops open quickly.

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