Since the launch of the "individual visitor" scheme for tourists from the mainland in July last year, the Hong Kong tourism industry has experienced an unprecedented boom. Sightseers and shoppers have been flooding across the border with money to spend and eager to seize the chance to stock up on top quality souvenirs.
Different business sectors associated with the tourism industry have all benefited but the gold and jewellery retail sector more than most. Diamonds and gold have become a "must buy" for many mainland tourists and, as an international jewellery centre, Hong Kong can boast a choice suitable for all budgets and tastes.
According to Kathy Ng, president of Hang Fung Gold Technology Group, mainland tourists used to spend an average of HK$1,500 on jewellery, but nowadays their spending power has doubled. Those from Beijing and Shanghai are the biggest spenders, parting with up to HK$5,000 per visit. "Most customers, aged between 30 and 60, fancy either jewellery or gold ornaments featuring traditional simple designs," says Ms Ng.
With Hong Kong given the green light by mainland authorities to start offering RMB banking services from January 2004, Chinese tourists are now able to deposit, exchange and pay with credit cards using their own currency. Ms Ng comments: "The relaxation will spur tourists to spend even more in Hong Kong, thus widening our business opportunities."
She adds that, after the SARS crisis ended last summer, business saw double-digit growth in July and August compared with the same period in 2002. She expects even stronger growth this year pointing out that, "Mainlanders love to come to Hong Kong and consider it a once in a lifetime visit."
With 4,000 employees, Hang Fung is one of the largest manufacturers of gold and precious metal products in Hong Kong. Company factories here and in China annually produce over eight million items with an incredible variety of innovative designs. The design division closely monitors market and consumer trends. Each month, it creates over 1,500 new designs and, so far, has acquired patents for six technology products. In recent years, the group launched its own signature brands - "3D-GOLD" caters for mature jewellery lovers and "La Milky Way" for younger people.
At least 100 new staff in the first quarter
Currently operating nine retail stores in Hong Kong, three of them with exhibition halls, the group employs around 300 frontline workers. To cope with demand, three to five more speciality shops will open in 2004. At least 100 new staff will be employed in the first quarter, 50 percent as sales staff and the rest supervisors and managers.
"Sales candidates are expected to speak fluent English and Putonghua and, ideally, other Chinese dialects as well to deal with tourists from different provinces," Ms Ng explains. "Graduates are welcome to join us but must be capable, aggressive and interested in the business."
"Managers and supervisors must have relevant experience in jewellery shop operations and retail management, a passion and feeling for jewellery and be able to communicate with customers about the quality of the items they want to buy. This calls for leadership ability and excellent interpersonal skills."
Ms Ng says Hang Fung remains competitive because the quality of its jewellery is closely monitored to ensure customers get value for money. Mainland tourists wanting to have their jewellery cleaned or altered after purchase from "3D-GOLD" and "La Milky Way" outlets in Hong Kong can enjoy such services at any of the 67 retail stores in major China cities.