Luxury retailers in London are hoping to cash in on the growing ranks of high-net worth Chinese travelers in the wake of relaxed visa application rules for tourists and businesspeople from the mainland, which were announced in October by the British government.
Representatives from the London Luxury Quarter (LLQ), a collection of 42 streets in Mayfair, Piccadilly, and St. James, housing some of the world’s top luxury retailers, recently wrapped up a mission to China aimed at courting wealthy Chinese travelers. At an event in Beijing that was attended by London mayor Boris Johnson, the LLQ launched a series of bespoke initiatives to encourage high-net worth individuals to visit the UK and shop in the district. As part of the campaign, 20 brands—including Cartier, Ralph Lauren, and Giorgio Armani—will open their private museums, design rooms, vaults, and archives to ultra-high net worth shoppers for the first time.
Created in tandem with increased efforts among global luxury brands to attract Chinese clients’ attention through tailored, VIP experiences, the program will include activities such as a private tour of the Floris museum with a member of the Floris family, a private viewing of the Ritz Jewellery Collection, or a commission with the shoemakers at Foster & Son on Jermyn Street to create a bespoke pair of shoes.
Chinese travelers are increasingly important the London’s luxury stores. Mainland shoppers spent more than 262 million pounds in the Quarter in 2012, an increase of 31 percent from the year before, according to the group’s own data. Chinese spend on average 1,656 pounds per transaction in the Quarter, which is 122 percent higher than anywhere else in the UK.
Britain’s luxury retailers had long sought to relax visa requirements for visitors form the mainland, which the government granted in mid-October. Under the new visa rules, part of an effort to attract high-spending Chinese tourists and investment dollars, visitors will be allowed to apply for a 24-hour priority visa rather than having to wait for up to a week.
Chinese tourists spent a total of $102 billion globally last year, the highest spending tourists in the worth. High-net worth Chinese travel to Europe to avoid high taxes on luxury goods on the mainland. Even though Chinese tourists spend approximately $2,600 per visit to the UK, nearly three times the global average, retailers feel they have lost out to other European countries because of the complicated visa rules. France, by comparison, receives 25 percent more Chinese visitors than the UK.
The new visa rules “will reduce the hassle factor that we believe has been deterring many Chinese tour groups from including the UK on their European tours,” says Catherine Shrimpton, head of marketing at London First and co-founder of the UK-China Visa Alliance, an organization that has lobbied to simplify the visa process for Chinese visitors. “The move is welcomed by British businesses, especially those in the retail and leisure sectors.” She adds that the UKCVA hopes the visa process is streamlined and simplified even further.
Over half the stores in the LLQ now have Mandarin-speaking staff. Seventy-five percent of stores are open to requests for bespoke shopping packages and tours and 90 percent offer the option for private shopping after store opening hours. “London and the UK is a global shopping destination and UK brands are increasingly adapting their product and services for Chinese customers,” Shrimpton says.