Being a tax-free zone for all goods except alcohol and tobacco has long made Hong Kong an attractive shopping destination. To make it even more seductive to people seeking serious retail therapy, shops have traditionally banded together to offer two mega-sales periods per year: from New Year to Chinese New Year, and throughout summer.

And with summer on Hong Kong’s doorstep, now is the time to consider whether the short flight there might be worthwhile in terms of the big savings you can make. If you’re a fashion nut, Hong Kong can offer some serious savings on the same designer garb available in New York, London, Milan or Paris.

Other discounted items range from arts and crafts to jewellery, perfumes and leather goods. "It’s a popular destination for interior decorators and those interested in home wares and the latest electronics. Kids have great fun exploring the toy and model shops," Hong Kong Tourist Board representative Donna Morgan noted.

Many of the world’s top designer labels – think Armani, Christian Dior, DKNY, Fendi, Maxmara, Miu Miu – have kicked off the sales season this month with 10 to 30 per cent discounts. But if you can save yourself until August, prices are expected to drop by up to 50 per cent throughout that month.

Tie in your shopping trip with one of the great short stay packages available from various agents in Bangkok. DTC Travel offers 3 day/2 night and four day/3 night packages including accommodation, a half day Hong Kong island tour, and round trip airport transfers. Two nights on a twin sharing basis will set you back HK$430 (Bt2,480) per person at the Panda Hotel, $510 (Bt2,942) at BP International House or $730 (Bt4,212) at the New World Renaissance (among others). Three nights at the same hotels are $620 (Bt3,577), $720 (Bt4,154) or $1110 (Bt6,404). Prices (in Hong Kong dollars) are valid until August.

Of course you’ll need your airline ticket too. Fly economy with China Airlines for Bt8,200 return, or THAI for a two to seven day stay for Bt10,300. The latter price is for flights leaving on Fridays and Saturdays only. If your wallet can stand staying longer than seven days, THAI flies return for up to a year for Bt11,300. Cathay Pacific flies under similar conditions for the same price (excluding departure tax of Bt500).

Alternatively, go for Royal Orchid Holidays’ all-in-one package "Take A Break". It includes two nights accommodation with breakfast, round trip airport transfers and economy return airfare. Choose from a variety of hotels, such as the Park Hotel for Bt11,215, Century Hong Kong for Bt12,020 or the Hyatt Regency for Bt14,755. Duration of the price validity depends on the hotel chosen, and tickets must be booked seven days in advance.

If you’ve checked your diary and you just can’t get to Hong Kong this summer, don’t panic. Another shopping promotion kicked off in April and runs until March 2003: "City of Life: Hong Kong is it!". Under this promotion, all visitors to Hong Kong are granted a VIP Card that gives generous discounts at more than 600 shopping outlets (The holder will receive all the benefits normally associated with the participating stores’ own VIP privilege cards.) Selected tours are also discounted up to 50 per cent for cardholders. Where items are already on sale, however, discounts don’t apply.

Another recent development has been the establishment of the Quality Tourism Services (QTS) Scheme, set up by the Hong Kong Tourist Board in April. Under this scheme, retailers and restaurants are allowed to display a QTS sign once they guarantee to provide a particular level of service to consumers. One more step, perhaps, along Hong Kong’s way to becoming the most popular place in the world to shop.

/ Travel