Henry Ho: Reinvigorating Hong Kong’s nightlife with practical measures

何建宗:港須融入「兩個大局」 減辣才能留住人才

With Victoria Harbour’s dazzling nighttime scenes and skyline, glittering neon signs and spectacular tourist attractions, Hong Kong, described as “the Pearl of the Orient”, is nothing short of an urban spectacle.

It is excellent news that Hong Kong is set to initiate a wide array of events under the Night Vibes Hong Kong campaign to reinvigorate its nighttime economy. Hong Kong’s vivid nightlife started losing its allure after the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city, but the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and the city’s business sectors have already stepped up to entice local consumers and tourists to splurge at night and bolster the economy.

Indeed, this has been at the forefront of the government’s development plan. With targeted measures on both the supply and demand side, Hong Kong can speed up efforts to encourage more businesses, small stall vendors and hawkers to operate at night bazaars or on the streets to offer entertainment, delicacies and shopping experiences.

On the supply side, a big stimulus to Hong Kong’s nighttime economy would be to lift the rigid regulations and rules that have hampered some hawkers’ operations. The HKSAR government should review its stringent licensing requirements for hawkers across the 18 districts in the city. Currently, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department’s hawker control teams have relatively harsh enforcement actions in place, constraining hawkers’ operations.

The existing policy is mapped out to strike a balance between legal hawking and maintaining environmental hygiene. It is of paramount importance that the government eases the rigid requirements and embraces flexible policies to serve the needs of hawkers and encourage them to operate their businesses at night — which can be distinctive charms for locals and tourists while bringing potential economic benefits.

Enhancing service quality is a must to win back the hearts of Hong Kong consumers. Because of the shortage of labor and a lack of training, the service quality in our shops and restaurants has been in decline.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, vivid nightlife scenes were prevalent in Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui and other places. Devoid of consumers today, restaurants in some districts on Hong Kong Island usually close very early during the week — and foodies have had trouble finding somewhere to eat after 9 pm. While the food and beverage sector did not expect that its business would get back to pre-pandemic levels swiftly, they can still mull extending service hours.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong can foster more small-scale stall vendors at night bazaars and fairs — where operators can run their businesses inexpensively. Under the government’s Night Vibes Hong Kong campaign, it will host three night bazaars at waterfront promenades, with food stalls, cultural events and live performances.

The HKSAR government can step up its efforts to encourage the running of such small-scale stalls, thereby creating opportunities for ordinary workers or the self-employed who have the necessary entrepreneurial spirit to jump-start their own small business. They may work during the day as usual and then operate their stalls to reap extra income at night bazaars. Staging a variety of events is crucial to appeal to young shoppers and to reviving the city’s lackluster nighttime economy.

Versatile night markets in some Chinese mainland cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area have provided a glimpse of a possible future for Hong Kong. In contrast to some near-deserted streets in Hong Kong at night, across the border in prime areas in Foshan and Guangzhou, the streets are buzzing with the chatter of young customers and vendors are selling delicious snacks and fashionable products.

Authorities in Foshan have introduced a wide array of favorable policies to turbocharge their night markets’ development, encouraging stalls to operate in designated areas and on commercial streets. The nighttime economy has emerged as a momentous driving force for bolstering consumption in the mainland.

As for the demand side, the HKSAR government can concentrate on driving robust consumption from tourists and locals to bolster the nighttime economy. To lure mainland and overseas tourists — many of whom would love to experience authentic Hong Kong neighborhoods instead of well-known tourist spots or glitzy retail zones — the HKSAR government can initiate more promotional campaigns.

Also, local consumers’ lifestyles and consumption habits changed significantly during the pandemic; they became accustomed to not going out at night. As such, Hong Kong can create a vibrant shopping atmosphere at nighttime to reverse this trend.

Nowadays, many pennywise Hong Kong people opt to go on shopping sprees across the border at weekends and during long holidays. Shenzhen’s authorities have unveiled a spate of measures to lure more Hong Kong visitors, such as improving the cross-border electronic payment systems, as well as providing free shuttle buses from border crossing points to shopping malls. Shenzhen’s low prices for high-quality services are the reason why Hong Kong shoppers travel there. Therefore, the HKSAR government and business sectors should strengthen the city’s shopping ambience. Only when local shoppers are delighted with retailers’ services and product offerings will they continue to spend locally.

To bolster domestic demand, more initiatives can be rolled out to lure people to go out to eat. Apart from providing cash vouchers and dining coupons from shopping malls, free car parking spaces can be offered overnight to locals who want to go out to have a drink and dinner with friends — without having to worry about whether they are sober enough to drive home.

Also, Hong Kong could roll out a designated driver service, whereby drivers can call a sober person with a license to drive them home in their own vehicle if they have been drinking. The launch of such a service would let more revelers and diners enjoy a night out, with the added benefit of creating more job opportunities for those with driving licenses.

Hong Kong has long been renowned for being a city that never sleeps. Nighttime economic development is an important reflection of our city’s economic vitality. With the government’s new initiatives to get more people to spend money at night, it is expected the consumer market will have room for a bigger recovery once nightlife re-emerges. Hopefully Hong Kong’s glamor and luster will be revitalized at nighttime.


The author is a member of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and founder and chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum.

The original article was published in China Daily ( Sept 28, 2023)