Paris has edge over London on visa policy for Chinese tourists
"Let's be perfectly clear, this is a competition with London, this is a battle between cities."
So said François Navarro, the Ile-de-France regional tourist authority's spokesman, to a British newspaper. And this time he is looking to avoid a Waterloo: Paris draws one million Chinese tourists annually, 10 times more than London.
Julie Chappell, marketing director at London & Partners, the official promotional organisation for the British capital, acknowledges the charm of Paris, but adds "according to the latest Globe Shopper City Index, it is London that is the best city for shopping in Europe".
Thus, Chappell elaborates, it's no wonder that the Chinese tourists spent "£140 million (HK$1.68 billion) just in 2012". They appreciate "our world-class attractions and hotels with Chinese cuisine, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the Westfield Stratford City shopping complex with Chinese-speaking concierges and the UK's largest casino".
Walpole, a leading British luxury industry association, and others covet Paris' success, and are lobbying the UK government to ease visa restrictions for many Chinese visitors. Currently, a mainland Chinese tourist can travel through most of Europe with a visa obtained to enter France, but will need a separate one to enter the UK.
"Getting a UK visa is not only cumbersome - another expense - but also not very convenient because it's valid for just one country," warns Jens Thraenhart, co-founder of Dragon Trail, a digital marketing agency which targets affluent Chinese consumers.
Comite Colbert, the French rival of Walpole, has focused on a charm offensive in China since 2003. It has organised events including the Year of China in France and the Year of France in China, as well as holding a luxury exhibition in Shanghai and a festival in Hong Kong.
The competition between Paris and London is also felt at street level. The London Luxury Quarter, a platform of 42 central London streets, is trying hard to reach out to wealthy Chinese by arranging press trips, taking visitors to their best spots and reinforcing its presence on weibo.
London Luxury Quarter is offering Chinese tourists private tours of high-end shops that hold royal warrants, such as Penhaligon's and Fortnum & Mason, where a three-hour tour costs £365 for up to five guests, said Mark Henderson, chairman of London Luxury Quarter.
Hotels and shops in the London Luxury Quarter now have Putonghua-speaking staff to cater for Chinese customers, Henderson said.
"Bond Street will shortly be launching tailored guides for international visitors. These will soon be available in simplified Chinese for guests from China."
Meanwhile, Paris' Tourism Board has launched a 'City Shopping Passport' and published a guide reminding Parisians that the luxury spending of the Chinese is crucial and that "a simple smile and hello in their language will satisfy them" and how "sensitive" they are to fine food and wine.
And Parisian police have promised to deploy more officers to protect tourists against pickpockets after dozens of Chinese visitors suffered robberies this year.