Chinese retail culture in the UK

The prevailing view is that paying for professional advice on matters of overseas culture and the use of interpreters is only necessary at the high end of business. Not so. London West End stores are increasingly employing Mandarin speakers to cater for the growing number of wealthy Chinese tourists visiting the UK.

Harrods and Selfridges has even gone one step further and installed dedicated payment terminals that will accept China Union Pay credit cards that allow payment to be taken directly from bank accounts in China. Such moves are not surprising. The average individual spend of Chinese tourists in the UK during the first quarter of the year was more than £3,500.

In the last ten years sterling has fallen hugely against the renminbi, and at the same time personal wealth has boomed in China. The result is that Chinese visitors find favourite brands such as Burberry, Hermes and Dior a bargain compared to home, even at West End prices. With the number of visitors from China growing by more than 25 percent year on year more retailers will begin to cater for the Chinese.

But Visit Britain, the body responsible for promoting tourism into the UK, does not seem to be much concerned either way. In a leaked letter from the UK Ambassador to Beijing, Sebastian Wood, to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, he complains about the poor performance of Visit Britain in China, and the visa barriers restricting tourism to the UK. Unsurprisingly the handful of Visit Britain staff in China do not have much of an impact on the Chinese population of 1,338,299,512. More importantly it is not reaching the fast growing wealthy middle class. Most Chinese visit other European destinations which benefit hugely from their spending power.

The combination of the poor performance of Visit Britain and the unreasonable visa restrictions is not only damaging the UK tourist industry, it is damaging business too. Chinese business owners and investors perceive the UK to alienate itself from China – we don’t appear to want them so guess what? They happily take their trade and money elsewhere. Which begs the question, who needs who most?

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