Anti-pandemic measures baffle florists in Lunar New Year Fair
On Lunar New Year's Eve, buyers crowded the Mongkok Flower Market for last-minute shopping while the 15 government-organized festival flower markets were relatively quiet due to anti-pandemic measurements, which curtailed the number of stalls by half, limited visitors and slashed operating hours.
The Hong Kong government once decided to stop organizing this year’s Lunar New Year Flower Fair but changed its mind to announce on Jan. 19 that the 15 flower markets would be opened for the festive period of seven days but with crowd-control measures.
Many Hong Kong florists who planned to join the Lunar New Year Flower Market had already taken alternative plans including renting pop-up shops and selling online.
“We have rented a shop for selling flowers, but the government suddenly changed after two weeks,” said Hung Chun-kit, 31, one of the florists. He said that they were not able to return the deposit to the shop owner and the government measurement made them lose their head.
Even though the government exempted the rents for the 2021 Lunar New Year Flower Markets, it would not be enough to compensate florists’ extra costs and reduced sales.
“The scale has been downsized with crowd-control measurement, customer flow is fewer than before. It is hard to gain profit even though the Lunar New Year Flower Market was uncharged, ” said Mr Hung. The scale of the fair had been down to 50%, the number of booths is limited. Therefore, florists continued to rent empty shops to sell flowers because these shops have no crowded-control measurements.
“The government announcements are messing around our businesses, and this is an erratic situation for our industry,” said Tse Wong Siu-yin, 45, chairperson of Hong Kong Flower Retailers Association.
Lam Sze-ching, 72, a florist who won the bid but did not join the fair while renting an empty shop outside the fair instead. “The fair is too restrictive, they have a time limit and they set a maximum number of people,” she said. “People are feeling troubled to fulfil the anti-epidemic measures for entering the fair, therefore, we think that selling flowers outside the fair would be more competitive,” said Ms Lam, adding the cost of renting an empty shop outside was triple that of renting a booth inside the fair.
Local farmers and flower vendors have planted and ordered products for the Lunar New Year Fair so the new measurements brought a huge impact on their businesses.
Since Hong Kong is in a recession and the unemployment rate hit a 16-year high of 6.6%, florists believed it might be one of the factors affecting their business. “People might suffer from job loss or salary gutted, we feel like customers are not willing to part from their money,” said Ms Lam.
Under the uncertain economic environment, florists were having no choice but to cut prices to boost sales. Chan Ka-kwan, 26, a florist who works at the Mongkok Flower Market said they had adjusted the price down according to their peers in the same market, even though the cost of this year's flowers was higher than last year. Ms Chan said the clearance prices of the flower are HK$10 to HK$15 cheaper compared to previous years.
Florists also said that they stocked less this year to prevent sluggish sales amid concerns that the government might cancel the flower fair and a progressive decrease in flower purchasing every year in the city.
“It would be difficult to sell flowers if the government closes the flower market earlier because of the pandemic. So we did not keep many stocks,” said Hung Ming, 58, one of the florists who joined the fair at Sheung Shui. She said customers’ flow fell by about 30% this year compared to 2020. But they almost sold out all their stock on the last day of the fair.
Peggy Ng, 41, a vendor who's been attending the Lunar New Year Market at Victoria Park for more than 25 years said that she stocked 30% less than the previous year. She said her shop did not lower the product price and the sales of the flowers are 30% to 40% less than the previous year on the last day of the Lunar New Year Fair.
However, some customers complained that there were fewer flower options than before. “The booths are 50% less than last year, the flower species are fewer and I cannot find any Narcissus in this fair,” said Lo Si, 52, a customer in the Sheung Shui Lunar New Year Flower Market.
The Covid-19 has affected flower sales even before the Lunar New Year and some florists are trying to sell online. But Wong Kai-shing, 62, the owner of a flower shop at Mongkok Flower Market, said there were many concerns while starting an online florist business.
“There are risks for selling flowers to customers through online platforms, we have to take the shipping responsibility and response to the flowers’ conditions,” he said.
Mr Wong said customers might return their products if the flowers were damaged, for example, the branch broke or the flower dropped.
Therefore, florists are still focusing on physical stores. Chan Ka-kwan, 26, one of the flower shop owners in the Mongkok Flower Market said they could see customer traffic increase while the scale of the Lunar New Year Markets narrowed. “People moved to Mongkok Flower Market to purchase products since our flower market has no anti-pandemic measurements.”
Even so, the passenger flow in the year-round Mongkok Flower Market was 30% to 40% lower in the past weeks. “Covid-19 has hit the traditional flower market in 2021, we lost a lot of customers, the situation this year is not as good as last year,” said Ms Chan.
Different flowers have various flowering phases, growers sowed seeds of the festival flowers several months ago and thus the number of flowers they grew was similar to last year.
“The flowers were planted, we are wishing to sell all of it by lowering the price at the end of the Lunar New Year holiday,” Ms Chan added.
《The Young Reporter》
The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.
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