One Report Estimates Chinese Shoppers Spent US$7.2 Billion Overseas During Holiday
From Hong Kong and Seoul to New York and Paris, mainland Chinese tourist-shoppers were out in force over the 2012 Chinese New Year holiday. According to one report this week by the Beijing-based World Luxury Association, luxury spending rose 28.6 percent this year to US$7.2 billion overseas, with domestic shoppers spending a total of 470 billion yuan (US$74.6 billion) on all retail transactions within China. As the WLA added in its latest report, Chinese consumers made up around 62 percent of all luxury sales in Europe last year.
Though we have long been suspicious of the World Luxury Association’s reports, whether their numbers are correct or not, it’s clear that Chinese tourist-shoppers benefited tourism industries around the world last year and will continue to do so in growing numbers. Today, the New York Times noted the trend, referencing the article, “Can China’s New Year shoppers save Europe?” published last week by the French-language site of China’s People’s Daily:
[The article] quoted Xinxi Ribao, head of the Guangda International Travel Service, as saying Chinese tourists were primarily on the lookout for watches, Swiss chocolates, French bags, spectacles, cosmetics and scents, and Italian jewelry and leather goods. New Year shoppers often preferred to cut short their sightseeing in order to concentrate on shopping.
Though much of the focus on outbound Chinese tourists focuses primarily on their luxury spending, there are signs that more seasoned travelers — or Chinese living abroad who regularly host visiting friends — are growing tired of simply crowding onto buses overseas to shop. As Chen Weihua, editor of China Daily‘s US edition, wrote this week:
Living in New York, I have the great pleasure of having Chinese friends come from afar to visit. Yet instead of seeing the real jewels of New York, such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Broadway musicals, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and jazz in the West Village, they are desperate to visit the Fifth Avenue and Woodbury Common outlets, about an hour’s drive from Manhattan, where some 200 discount luxury goods stores are located. And it is not just the women it’s also the men.
In fact, not all of these friends are wealthy. Yet many seem to have no hesitation when it comes to buying a luxury item that might cost one or two months’ wages.
The whole thing reminds me of my year in Honolulu, Hawaii in the early 1990s. Pearl Harbor was the top destination for American visitors. But for Japanese tourists, it was the Ala Moana Shopping Center, where you saw young Japanese women shopping till they dropped.
Now Chinese shoppers have started to create a similar scene in not just New York, but also in other major US cities as well as the European cities of Paris, London and Milan. Such shopping sprees reach their peak during the Lunar New Year holiday. In fact, “Chinsumer” has already been coined to describe such lavish Chinese shoppers.
Chen implies that experiential tourism, rather than sightseeing done from inside a mall, is an area that Chinese tourists should more fully explore. While Jing Daily has already pointed out that this trend is already becoming apparent, Chen wraps up his observations of outbound Chinese tourist-shoppers by concluding, “To me, the blind worship of luxury goods, the irrational shoppers and the lack of interest in the real jewels of other cultures and countries sound multiple alarm bells for our society.”
While few luxury retailers in New York or Paris would agree with Chen’s viewpoint, a growing number of veteran Chinese travelers definitely do.