Ireland goes the extra mile for Chinese visitors
Anna Healy Fenton
Oh the irony. I learn that mainland Chinese tourists flock to Dublin’s poshest department store Brown Thomas, because they now have 12 in-store terminals that accept China UnionPay cards.
“Very few businesses in Ireland hold these machines,” the department store’s general manager told Dublin’s evening Herald newspaper. Hong Kong people know this only too well, after HSBC switched to these UnionPay cards last year. How hilarious that those smart chaps at Brown Thomas have been cute enough to clean up with mainland shoppers - by installing the UnionPay machines for the Chinese customers. Well done lads.
UnionPay card machines aren’t the only reason mainland Chinese tourist flock to Dublin. Firstly, Ireland eased its visa restrictions last year, after the UK tightened theirs, chuckle, chuckle. The RMB has appreciated 40 per cent in recent years over the euro, which means China’s new travelling middle class gets far more bang for their buck in euroland. Ireland’s high sales taxes and VAT can be claimed back at the airport, reducing real prices even further. You also get the latest lines of European branded products, so they can stock up on their favourite Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Ireland’s own Waterford Crystal, also popular with Chinese customers.
“When you combine the price difference, the conversion with the euro and the tax back they save a lot of money shopping here,” Brown Thomas general manager Limby told the Herald. Business is booming, with Chinese customers spending three times more than their normal customer. Mainlanders often splash out €20,000 on a single item.
Mandarin speaking staff
Chinese shoppers can even chat in Mandarin to Brown Thomas sales staff. Before Christmas, the store added ten more Chinese speaking staff to the 25 they already had, to cope with the holiday rush. Some of the mainland shoppers speak English, but for a more in-depth conversation Mandarin is required, explained Limby. Local staff have also received cultural training to deal with their Chinese customers from the UCD Confucius Institute, which promotes China-Ireland cooperation in business and education. Ireland is taking China relations seriously.
Ireland is embracing cultural bonding with China so enthusiastically. Our image previously in Asia was so bad that when the first batch of Vietnamese boat people wee told their destination was the Emerald Isle, they were dismayed. They tried to refuse to go. A few hundred refugees were dispatched to Dublin nevertheless and settled on the city’s north side. Needless to say, they prospered and for years their offspring regularly topped the school results league table.
Ireland circa 2014 is a different place. Thousands of mainland Chinese students choose to study in Ireland’s colleges and universities. As well as teaming up with the Chinese government (see previous blog) to develop the mainland’s bloodstock industry, Dublin’s Chinese New Year Festival is now in its seventh year. A raft of events including a carnival, started on New Year's Eve, January 30, running through to February 14. Dublin’s Lord Mayor Oisin Quinn said: "Our twinning relationship with Beijing continues to flourish and we aim to build and develop this in the coming year, especially in the area of cultural exchange," acknowledging the positive contribution made to the city over many years by the Chinese community. Amen to that.