Trailing only the famously free-spending Qataris, Chinese shoppers are now the second-place foreign shopping contingent in London’s swish West End. According to a study put out last week by Global Blue, in 2014 shoppers from the Greater China region spent 9 percent more in the popular luxury-shopping district—home to the likes of Burberry, Selfridges, Liberty, and dozens more.
Currently, Chinese shoppers account for one fifth of all purchases in the area and spend an average of £1,450 (US$2,202) per transaction.
The growing Chinese presence in London has been particularly pronounced on Bond Street, where major global brands like Chanel and Delvaux rub elbows with British heritage labels and retailers such as Alexander McQueen and Mulberry. Chinese shoppers made 23 percent of all luxury purchases on Bond Street last year.
However, it’s on nearby Regent Street where Chinese spending has grown by leaps and bounds. Boosted by Burberry’s popular, sprawling flagship and the serendipitous timing of London Fashion Week (which coincided with Chinese New Year), Regent Street has seen spending by Chinese visitors increase by a whopping 129 percent year-on-year in 2015.
Tourists from mainland China aren’t the only ones attracting the interest of major brands and retailers. According to Global Blue, shoppers from Hong Kong are “rising stars,” with their spending increasing 48 percent year-on-year and their average transaction reaching £1,280 (US$1,944). Retailers on Regent Street in particular have noted a strong increase in visits from Hong Kong consumers.
Despite these strong gains, London-based brands, retailers, and tourism organizations continue to believe the government could do much more to attract even more Chinese travelers. As has been the case for years, much of this goes back to the UK’s visa policy, which–despite many improvements–is less efficient and slower than the United States or European Union.
Gordon Clark, the UK country manager for Global Blue, urged politicians to relax Chinese visa rules in the company’s latest report, and “also to allow these lucrative travelers to actual[ly] land at one of our main UK airports” by increasing the number of runways in the metro area.
Others are looking to link British visas with the EU’s successful Schengen program as a shortcut to a more effective visa system. As Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of business group London First, said late last year, “A ‘one-stop shop’ [allowing tourists to obtain Schengen and UK visas simultaneously] would make a big difference to the number of Chinese visitors coming to the UK.”