Amy Nip, Austin Chiu and Dan Kadison – SCMP
More than 30 bars are on the verge of closing as a result of the ban on smoking in entertainment venues, according to the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association. Massage and mahjong parlours have also been hit hard, the industry says.
Business at bars and pubs had dropped 20 per cent to 40 per cent since the smoking ban came into force, the association said.
Business at massage parlours had halved, according to associations representing the sector. Most mahjong parlour operators interviewed said their business was down by about a third.
Some 30 or 40 bars, out of a total of 800 in the city, could close in the near future, Hong Kong Bar and Club Association vice-chairman Chin Chun-wing said. Up to 10 bar owners had sold their businesses recently.
While some smokers said they now preferred going to upstairs pubs – some of which are turning a blind eye to the ban – Mr Chin said others had simply stopped going to bars.
Charlie Chair Sai-sui, a 25-year veteran of the industry and operator of the Schooner Pub & Karaoke in Tsim Sha Tsui, said he was making a loss of about HK$30,000 a month in an industry that was experiencing a “bloodbath”.
At Delaney’s Irish pub in Tsim Sha Tsui, general manager Colin Williams said it was too early to judge the smoking ban’s effect, as “July is notoriously bad anyway”. He estimated receipts had dropped 5 per cent because daytime customers were no longer stopping by for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.
Other patrons, however, were now bringing their children to the pub and that was helping offset losses. Also, evening customers, mostly overseas visitors, were “used to these [smoking] bans already”, he said.
Chow Chun-yu, chief executive of the Hong Kong Licensed Massage Association, said customers would rather go to mainland parlours because they could smoke there.
A supervisor at the Tai Sam Yuen mahjong parlour in Sham Shui Po said the smoking ban had been more damaging to the business than the global economic crisis. It had caused business to fall by a fifth and the parlour could close at any time.
And a general manager at mahjong parlour operator KC City said business at her eight parlours was down 40 per cent compared to July last year. Four-fifths of customers were smokers, she said.
But James Middleton, chairman of Hong Kong-based Clear The Air’s anti-tobacco committee, said smoking bans had not hurt the catering industry in other countries.
Overall, till receipts in places that had enforced smoking bans had stayed the same or, in most places, risen by 5 per cent to 12 per cent, he said. Hong Kong had seen “the biggest up” in business, even with a partial ban, of any city, he said.
“Restaurant turnover [in Hong Kong] has increased 29 per cent since before the ban,” Mr Middleton said. “And restaurant turnover here includes bars … of 7,000 licensed premises, [only] 1,000 applied for an exemption [from the smoking ban] and were granted an exemption.”
One reason for the increase was that Hong Kong families were able to bring their young children to the smoke-free establishments, he said.