(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong became a ghost town during the Easter holiday as residents made a record number of trips out of town — particularly to mainland China — leaving bar strips and shopping hotspots empty. 

A total of 9.3 million departures from the city of 7.3 million people occurred in March. It was the single-highest monthly number since at least 1997, according to government data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Over the four-day Easter holiday that ended Monday, total Hong Kong resident departures for Macau and mainland China was 10% higher than in 2019, government data show. Few visitors came to take their place: arrivals to the city from mainland China and Macau plunged 46% from the 2019 period.

The great departure underscores the challenges facing the once vibrant financial center that has seen a large swath of its professional workers relocate to other countries, a diminished entertainment sector and soaring prices. 

The record outflow was largely the result of people heading across the border to the mainland and Macau, where they can enjoy cheaper and a larger variety of entertainment, food and shopping. Hong Kong residents last month made 8.3 million departures via border checkpoints — another record since at least 1997 — typically used to travel to the rest of China. 

Hong Kong is increasingly losing out to nearby Chinese cities including tech hub Shenzhen and casino town Macau as a high-speed rail and a mega cross-sea bridge make cross-border travel faster and easier than ever before. The financial center is struggling to maintain its appeal in the face of an economic slowdown and weaker yuan. High Hong Kong rents and limited entertainment offerings — from restaurants to shopping — have pushed up prices and reduced residents’ choices. 

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Local bars and restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. Dining-in business over the Easter holiday was estimated to have fallen by as much as 40% from a year ago, Simon Wong, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said on a local radio program Monday. Some 300 restaurants have closed over the past month, Wong said. 

A Facebook group about Hong Kong stores shutting down has attracted 186,000 members, with users posting photos of shuttered outlets, empty shops and going-out-of business announcements. 

Even Hong Kong’s tycoon-owned supermarket chains, such as CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd.’s ParknShop and Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd.’s Wellcome, are facing increasing pressure as they rework strategies to provide customers with more choices. State-owned conglomerates China Resources Holdings Co. and Dah Chong Hong Holdings Ltd. — the city’s biggest food and fast-moving consumer goods distributors — have closed dozens of grocery stores in recent months. 

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Travel agencies operating tours to the mainland, on the other hand, are experiencing booming business. Over the Easter holiday, the number of Hong Kong residents signing up for tour groups to other Chinese cities rose three-fold from the year before, said Steve Huen, executive director of EGL Tours.

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