Hong Kong's retail sales rose for the 13th consecutive month in December as tourism continued to improve, official data showed on Thursday.

Sales increased 7.8% year-on-year to HK$36.3 billion ($4.64 billion) in December, the Hong Kong government said. That compared with a 15.9% jump in November, a 5.8% rise in October, 13% growth in September and a 13.7% increase in August.

"Visitor arrivals should increase further alongside the continued recovery of handling capacity," a government spokesman said.

Rising household income and the government's efforts to promote mega events should provide support to retail businesses, the spokesman said.

In terms of volume, retail sales increased 4.8% in December, compared with 12.4% growth in November, a 2.9% rise in October, a 10% rise in September and 11% growth in August.

For the whole of 2023, the value of retail sales rose 16.2% year-on-year, while volume grew 13.8%.

Hong Kong's economy expanded 4.3% in the fourth quarter of 2023, more than the previous three quarters but missing economists' median forecast of 4.7%. GDP grew 3.2% in 2023.

Visitor arrivals for December were 3.93 million, bringing the year's total to 34 million, according to Hong Kong Tourism Board data.

That compared with 2022's 160,578 and 2021's 604,564 respectively, when China was still in the grip of COVID restrictions.

The number of mainland Chinese visitors increased to 2.9 million in December from 2.4 million in November, the data showed. That compared with 67,244 in December 2022.

Sales of jewellery, watches, clocks and valuable gifts, which before the pandemic were mostly bought by mainland tourists, rose 50.1% year-on-year in December after a 60.8% jump in November, data showed.

Sales of clothing, footwear and accessories grew 18.3% on the year in December after a 49.1% increase in November. ($1 = 7.8175 Hong Kong dollars) (Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Savio D'Souza)