The government must do more to help retailers capitalise on the opportunity Chinese tourists present to the UK, experts have said.
Spending from Chinese shoppers soared 45% in July compared to the same period in 2014, according to Visa. Its customers spent £50m on Visa cards in the UK during July, overtaking France and Australia to become the second highest spending tourists behind Americans.
The spike comes after new streamlined visa procedures were introduced for Chinese nationals who want to visit both the UK and the wider Schengen area. The pilot scheme allows Chinese tourists to apply for visas for the UK and Belgium through a single visit to application centres in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
But observers said this was just the first step. Gordon Clark, UK country manager of tax-free spending firm Global Blue, said: “The tie-up with Belgium has streamlined the process for visitors, but Belgium only issues around 14,000 Chinese Visas a year. The big ones like France, Italy and Germany would open up the door to millions. We need to keep pressure on the rest of Europe.”
The managing director of one London department store agreed: “Unfortunately, the Chinese spend eight times more in France than the UK so it’s only a minor skirmish win, rather than the war.”
Clarke also argued the need to invest in increasing awareness of the UK in China: “They are the biggest spenders here. At the moment we don’t know the full effect of the devaluation [last week] of the yuan, but it will ultimately make luxury goods cheaper to buy in China so it will hit the UK. We need to be rolling out the red carpet and letting China know we are open for business.”
Jace Tyrrell, director at New West End Company, which represents retailers on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street in London, agreed: “We need to see a bigger proportion of Chinese tourists coming into Europe. There are other avenues we should look at too, like a 10-year visa [rather the current six-month visa]. Despite the fluctuations in currency at the moment, in the medium to long term the Chinese will be among our biggest spenders for decades to come.”
Credit agency Moody’s predicts Chinese growth will slow from 7.4% last year to 6.8% this year and 6.5% in 2016, falling towards 6% in subsequent years.