The Times interviewed New West End Company about the rise in Chinese visitors to the London Luxury Quarter. Ahead of Spring Golden Week, New West End Company saw an increase in requests for our By Appointment service that provides tailor-made itineraries in London to meet client’s requirements.
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Tailor-made tours entice Chinese visitors to splash cash
Mandarin-speaking shop assistants and complimentary fortune cookies no longer cut it for the wealthy Chinese customer on a trip to the UK, so now they are getting the full Made in Britain shopping experience.
Companies have begun to offer “luxury” shopping tours, where trips to London are combined with backstage tours of designer studios and etiquette classes. The prize they are chasing is the increasingly powerful Chinese pound.
Chinese spending in Britain in and around the two-week Chinese new year holiday, which falls between February 16 and March 2 this year, is growing at 26 per cent every year as visitors take advantage of sterling’s fall and easing visa restrictions, according to Global Blue, a tax-free shopping services group.
By Appointment, which offers top-end shopping tours in London, said that there had been a 25 per cent rise in inquiries in the week before the lunar new year. A typical tour arranged by the company might include a trip to Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row, where customers can explore the downstairs workshop where suits are made by tailors and cutters.
A “finishing school” tour is topped off with seminars “providing the necessary educational, business and social skills to attend schools and universities like Eton and Oxford”, or an audience with one of the Queen’s portrait artists.
Marc Mekki, who runs Platinum Journeys, a Shanghai-based company that provides tours to London, said that he had received 70 inquiries for the new year period, a 20 per cent increase year-on-year. His packages, which can cost from £500 to £10,000, include trips to shops that hold royal warrants, such as Floris, Britain’s oldest perfumery, where visitors can learn to mix fragrances and can hear about clients from Winston Churchill to Marilyn Monroe.
“We’re seeing a real tilt away from blatant consumerism,” Mr Mekki said. “Chinese customers are after authentic experiences. They’re as sophisticated as high-end western travellers and the days of brands thinking they can just flog anything to big groups of Chinese are over.”
For those who want a traditional shopping experience, Selfridges remains popular. In the shop, red items and dog-shaped charms and trinkets adorn the concessions. “It’s their lucky colour,” a shop assistant at the Chloé franchise said. “We have red handbags, but not red wallets because that’s unlucky.” Johnstons of Elgin in New Bond Street said that its “doggy door stop” had proved popular to mark the year of the dog.
According to London Luxury Quarter, which promotes the capital’s expensive shopping districts, spending in Bond Street, Piccadilly, St James’s and Mayfair is set to reach £40 million during the new year period, a 14 per cent increase on 2017. Flight bookings from China to Britain for February are almost double compared with last year and travel agent bookings are up 15 per cent to more than 18,000 for the period, according to Forwardkeys, a travel analyst.
Henrietta Ferguson, another tour provider, said that retailers were buying into the idea of offering luxury packages because they recognised that they “increasingly need to differentiate themselves from destinations such as Paris or New York”. She is planning a package with the London Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane, which will include a Downton Abbey-themed workshop on how to serve afternoon tea.