Struggling Hong Kong malls roll out attractions such as Cupnoodles Museum, Lego playground in bid to lure families back amid pandemic

Sandy Li
·3-min read

Hong Kong’s shopping malls are upping their family entertainment offerings in a bid to woo back local shoppers put off by the pandemic.

Companies operating such attractions are only too happy to take advantage of the lower rents on offer, eagerly snapping up large spaces in a retail landscape that has seen an exodus of big names.

Japan’s Nissin Foods recently opened a vast Cupnoodles Museum, the first outside Japan, in the China Hong Kong City mall in Tsim Sha Tsui.

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“Cupnoodles Museum is one of the most popular travel destinations in Japan, and we have been in search of an ideal location over the years to set up one in Hong Kong,” said Nissin Foods Hong Kong in an email.

Cup Noodles Museum Hong Kong by Japanese ramen brand Nissin Foods opens at China Hong Kong City in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Nora Tam
Cup Noodles Museum Hong Kong by Japanese ramen brand Nissin Foods opens at China Hong Kong City in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Nora Tam

It said the attraction – a 10,000 square-foot branded space which features workshops in which participants can create their own unique cup noodle – has been more or less fully booked since it officially opened on March 26.

Rents in Hong Kong shopping malls are down by almost a half from their peak in the second quarter of 2018, according to data from Savills. Things have been even worse for high street shops, whose rents have tumbled as much as 80 per cent from the previous peak nine years ago.

Landlords of shopping centres are increasingly exploring the potential to attract more footfall by differentiating themselves from rivals with activities and leisure offerings, said Lawrence Wan, senior director for advisory and transaction services in retail for CBRE.

“Many entertainment groups have been looking for retail spaces in shopping malls to take advantage of the rental decline,” said Wan.

They are generally looking for large areas, preferably on a single floor with a high ceiling, he added.

About a 15-minutes walk from the Cupnoodles Museum, Lego opened its first indoor playground in the K11 Musea shopping centre on March 6. The 30,000 sq ft Legoland Discovery Centre sold a whopping 3,000 tickets even before the official opening.

In Tseung Kwan O, the Japanese video games giant Namco has debuted its first overseas indoor digital adventure playground, Docodoco, in Hong Kong at The Lohas, a three-storey mall in the Lohas Park residential development.

“There is an increasing demand for entertainment facilities in Hong Kong, especially under the tough pandemic situation,” said Shuichi Kikuchi, president of Namco Enterprises Asia which operates 11 game centres under the brand of Namco in Hong Kong

Besides the 5,000 sq- ft Docodoco playground, the Japanese entertainment group also opened a similar-sized Namco game centre, its 11th location in Hong Kong, at The Lohas.

Namco game centre in The Lohas shopping mall, Tseung Kwan O. SCMP / Sandy Li
Namco game centre in The Lohas shopping mall, Tseung Kwan O. SCMP / Sandy Li

Hong Kong’s retail landscape has undergone a dramatic change as international brands, which had paid sky-high rent for shops in prime locations to cater for mainland tourists, were forced to shut some of their premises. The city was first hit by the anti-government protest in 2019, and this was swiftly followed by a collapse in retail sales and tourist arrivals caused by the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.

In the absence of international brands, landlords have softened their stance and accepted much lower rents.

Most entertainment brands prefer space in neighbourhood malls rather than their high-end counterparts, said Cynthia Ng, senior director of retail services at Colliers.

“The rents would have included some support from the mall landlord or developer as these operators have a strategic role to play in the mall,” she said.

“But such support may not be over a long period, only for an immediate or shorter lease term.”

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