Chinese visitors lead UK tourist spending growth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 February, 2013, 4:51am

Chinese visitors to Britain are leading growth in UK tourist spending, as their passion for British heritage and the monarchy spurs purchases from outlets including the Harrods department store, a new report shows.

Spending by Chinese tourists in Britain's shops rose 31 per cent last year, with the nation accounting for a fifth of all non-European Union international expenditure, according to the report from the tourism services provider Global Blue.

Growth was about double that of Middle Eastern nations and Nigeria, with Thailand showing the second-fastest pace at 24 per cent, it said.

In addition to luxury goods from top brands such as Prada Spa, Chinese visitors want to take home UK memorabilia, with Diamond Jubilee china and glass and a £3,500 (HK$42,600) gold coin for the 2012 Olympics being popular choices. They are attracted by prices that can be 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than at home because of tax refunds and the strength of the yuan.

"They love the royal family," said Simon Fowler, managing director of the John Lewis store on Oxford Street in central London. "British brands like Roberts radios with a royal warrant on them or quintessentially British gifts are very big," he said.

Mainland tourists who were once herded around in groups to buy products from Louis Vuitton and Hermes are now well-seasoned, independent travellers who determine where they shop, according to Manelik Sfez, a spokesman for Global Blue, which runs a network that enables foreign shoppers to claim back value-added tax.

"They want the next thing that's in, they want to know what the brand is about, what is its heritage," Sfez said.

The average Chinese visitor to Britain spends £712 on tax-free shopping, according to Global Blue, against more than £1,000 a head for the biggest-spending Middle East nations. China is the biggest contributor to the UK's overseas tourist spending, Global Blue said.

At Harrods, Chinese shoppers are the "most significant and rapidly growing proportion" of the store's overseas customer base. Harrods has 75 Putonghua speakers among its 5,000 staff, a dedicated Putonghua personal shopping and concierge service and accepts China UnionPay, the nation's bankcard network.

"We're constantly looking at our offering" for Chinese visitors, said Samantha Dobbie, international marketing manager at Harrods.

At John Lewis's Oxford Street store, the Chinese are the fastest growing group of international shoppers, ahead of those from Kuwait and Nigeria, Fowler said. The retailer has recently doubled Putonghua-speaking staff and added new British brands such as Alice By Temperley.

Chinese visitors are also a target for Bremont, a watch-maker based in Henley-on-Thames, England, whose timepieces cost up to £20,000 and take two years to make. "Their appetite for purchasing is unbelievable," said Bremont's co-founder, Giles English.