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Hong Kong's Shopping Spree Surges On, and on

re-foot (16-acre) roof-top garden and a branch of trendy New York restaurant Megu.

"Shopping is almost Hong Kong's national pastime," said Betty Leong, MTR's chief retail development manager, who is confident there is room for another mall despite concern that traditional market stalls are being squeezed out in the rush for bigger, better and glitzier outlets.

"Hong Kong people are very stressed out, they are time-poor but cash-rich," she told AFP.

"Hong Kong is so condensed, people live in very small spaces and there are not a lot of places to go. This is the third place, somewhere away from office and home where they can go to relax."

The centre is on a direct rail link to Hong Kong's busy airport, making it easily accessible to the hordes of tourists -- 28 million last year -- lured here every year by tax-free shopping.

"The main purpose of most visits is to shop and eat," said Paul Husband, a Hong Kong-based consultant who advises on retail opportunities.

Far from sceptics' forecasts of an end to the consumer high-life, Husband said its continued allure could be attributed partly to Beijing.

"China has made huge efforts to ensure Hong Kong remains successful, for example by ensuring Chinese can have individual visas to visit the city, and allowing Hong Kong companies access to the mainland, rather than trying to clamp down on the city's success," he said.

Around 13.5 million Chinese tourists visited last year spending 27 billion dollars -- more than the rest of the world combined.

The bulk went on clothes, jewellery, watches and cosmetics, and despite a scandal earlier this year over the sale of fake jewellery to mainland buyers, their enthusiasm appears undimmed.

During China's early May holiday week, railings had to be erected outside a Louis Vuitton store to control the queues.

According to Chanel, far from
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