(Bloomberg) -- Asia’s largest commercial real estate investment trust said Hong Kong authorities should resume issuing multi-entry permits for Shenzhen visitors to boost retail spending. 

While Hong Kong residents have been increasingly traveling across the border, “we need a two-way flow,” Link REIT Chief Executive Officer George Hongchoy said in an interview on Thursday. 

Allowing Shenzhen residents to make unlimited trips to Hong Kong would not only increase sales at the company’s malls but also lift overall consumer sentiment amid a slower-than-expected retail recovery, he said.

Link REIT has more than 30 shopping developments in Hong Kong’s New Territories district near the Shenzhen border. The company enjoys a 98% occupancy rate across its entire Hong Kong retail portfolio because many of its malls are located near housing estates, allowing it to tap local demand. 

Still, the firm “can’t be complacent,” Hongchoy said. 

In 2009, Hong Kong introduced a multiple-entry permit that allowed eligible Shenzhen residents to make unlimited trips within a one-year period. In 2015, the permit was restricted to one trip a week due to concerns about overcrowding and parallel trading. In January, the Hong Kong government said authorities are exploring the resumption of multi-entry permits.

“Over these few years, there are more and more new shopping centers open and there are even more to come,” said Hongchoy. “So in terms of supply and capacity, we’re more capable of handling that than before.”

However, even with the once-a-week policy, there are few signs that Shenzhen residents are coming to Hong Kong. Over the four-day Easter holiday earlier this year, arrivals to Hong Kong from mainland China and Macau plunged 46% from 2019. In the opposite direction, departures were 10% higher.

Cross-border travel from Hong Kong has dominated local headlines in the past year, as residents travel to Guangdong province for leisure, dental treatment and bulk grocery shopping. Hong Kong’s retail sales remain far below pre-pandemic figures, and local bars and restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. 

Separately, Link may look at starting to raise new funds as it pivots to a new strategy that aims to work with capital partners to grow their assets. While it is still “early days” to discuss funding options, the company has recently brought on board senior investment professionals, said Hongchoy. This includes former BlackRock Inc.’s Asia Pacific real estate head John Saunders as group chief investment officer.

The company constantly looks for acquisition opportunities in Asia, including Japan, Hongchoy said. Recent purchases include distressed developer China Vanke Co.’s stake in a Shanghai mall in February. 

In Singapore, which has enjoyed a surge in property prices, acquisition challenges include a lack of supply as there are only a few major players and they don’t typically sell, he said. 

--With assistance from Lauren Faith Lau, Haidi Lun and Paul Allen.

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