London’s Luxury Retailers Strive To Overcome ‘Narrow-Minded’ Visa Policy

Can a new PR strategy and luxury shopping beat visa restrictions in luring Chinese travelers to London?

Can a new PR strategy and luxury shopping beat visa restrictions in luring Chinese travelers to London?

The UK has long lost out to its European neighbors in attracting high-spending Chinese tourists as a result of its cumbersome and bureaucratic visa application rules, but private retailers hope to take matters into their own hands by going on a powerful marketing offensive in the near future.

This week, the London Luxury Quarter, a collection of 42 streets housing the world’s top luxury retailers in the city, appointed China-based communications company Grebstad Hicks to assist in convincing wealthy travelers that London is still worth a visit in spite of its visa application annoyances. According to the press release, the company

…will arrange independent and group press trips, to take visitors behind the scenes of some of the Quarter’s finest retailers, hotels, restaurants and galleries. They will also manage London Luxury Quarter’s presence at key events throughout the year, including the potential Mayoral visit in October, and run a social media strategy on Weibo, China’s biggest social media platform.

London has a vast amount of potential in attracting more Chinese tourists, and its private sector is becoming increasingly fed up with the government’s lagging efforts to reform its strict visa application policies. The managing director of iconic department store Harrods complained to Reuters last week that current policies are “narrow-minded” and driving away a massive amount of tourism revenue from Chinese visitors, who already make up Harrods’ number one block of customers. A recent report by tax-free shopping facilitator Global Blue reported that London’s West End lost over 172 million pounds in retail revenue as a result of these rules.

Harrods as well as other top retailers such as Burberry and Mulberry have also attempted to directly impact government policies by joining the the UK China Visa Alliance, an organization which aims to “remove the burden involved in applying separately for each of the two visas a visitor needs to include the UK on a European trip.” At this point, retailers may be wise to invest more in the marketing side, as the country’s Immigration Minister has called the visa campaign a “waste of time.”

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