Business, Economics and Jobs

How Britain is Making it Easy for Chinese Tourists to Spend Money


Shopping in London

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo is in Britain talking trade and human rights with Prime Minister David Cameron. While China's leaders shop around for business opportunities in Britain, Chinese tourists are trolling the shops of London and they are outspending almost all other international visitors to the city.

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Stroll the sidewalks on London's upscale shopping districts and you'll spot them within minutes: tourists from China wandering in and out of the swanky shops.

"London is number one on the agenda for the Chinese people who want to visit Europe and I would say London is their first choice," one tourist said.

Another tourist, from Beijing, said her love of London stems from many things, such as the city's cultural scene.

"There are hundreds of museums and a lot of artists perform here," she said.

But as she talked, she clutched a bag with the familiar Hermes luxury goods logo. She admitted there is one thing that draws her to London more than anything else.

"Fantastic place for shopping," she said. "The shopping provide more options than my home country, but here the price is more competitive to be honest."

High taxes back home are part of the reason London seems relatively cheap. The pound has also fallen in value in recent years. So the newly wealthy Chinese have been arriving in growing numbers, ready to spend.

High-end department store Selfridges features all the top brands: Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada are on prominent display. There is no shortage of Chinese shoppers eyeing the goods.

Sophie Headley, who manages press relations for the store, said Selfridges has seen an astounding increase in sales to Chinese consumers.

"They are very important to our business but that's not to say we would ignore all the other overseas visitors as well," Headley said. "I would say that Chinese numbers are up 120 percent year on year which we're delighted about because they have a voracious appetite for designer label brands."

Selfridges and other top stores like Harrods are doing their best help whet that appetite. Until recently, the Chinese could only spend cash in their stores because their bank cards would not work outside of China.

Now, the stores feature special terminals that accept the Chinese cards. That change, along with the hiring of Mandarin speaking staff has led the average Chinese shopper to spends $5,700.00 per visit to Harrods.

As big spenders go, that puts them in league with shoppers from the Middle East and ahead of the Russians. Headley has noticed the Chinese have a certain shopping style. They enter the store, she said, head straight for the luxury labels, buy what they need and leave.

"I think it's very much about wearing the latest label and being seen to have the coolest latest watch or handbag or whatever it happens to be that's on their mind," Headley said.

Back out on the sidewalk, another happy customer laden with bags smiled as he lists his favorite London activities.

There is no mention of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey or the Tower of London.

"Shopping," he admitted, adding he enjoys a good meal and a drink to keep him going as he hunts for top-flight goods.