Feb. 8 - Retailers in austerity-hit Europe are increasingly battling to attract Asian shoppers. As the Chinese new year holiday gets into full swing just how important are foreign shoppers to struggling domestic markets? Hayley Platt reports
Central London and Chinese New Year celebrations are in full swing. It's the year of the Snake and it's not just the Chinese community which is celebrating - hard-pressed retailers are increasingly keen to join in. Chinese tourists spend three times more than any other foreign visitor to the UK. And they're seen as crucial to restoring the country's economic fortunes. British retailers are increasingly focussing on tourists to boost their sales. Richard Brown is from the tourism spending group Global Blue. SOUNDBITE: Richard Brown, Vice President, Global Blue UK, saying (English): "We believe we'll go back to a good trend that we saw in 2011 where we saw the growth of 30%, so we expect where the Chinese only group, grew by 30% in 2012 we expect that to be considerably higher maybe towards 40/50% in terms of sales." But Britain has a challenge - the rest of Europe is also trying to attract Chinese shoppers. Germany offers three times more flights to China and France claims four times the number of Chinese visitors. To compete London's biggest stores are investing in ways to make the shopping experience easier for Chinese visitors. Harrods now has 75 terminals allowing Chinese shoppers to use UnionPay cards. It even employs Mandarin speaking staff. As does retail chain John Lewis - Simon Fowler is MD of its Oxford Street store. SOUNDBITE: Simon Fowler, Managing Director, John Lewis Oxford Street, saying (English): "I think generally the level of spend that comes from the Chinese customer tends to be bigger. They tend to reserve more of their holiday money for spending and that's turning into a 90% increase for us year-on-year." But the UK's visa system doesn't help. Chinese visitors need a separate one for Britain - the rest of the EU has one for all. It also costs more and the application form is only in English. SOUNDBITE: Richard Brown, Vice President, Global Blue, saying (English): "I think it's probably a missed opportunity where we could maybe relax the visa regulations then we will definitely see more Chinese travellers come to the UK and that could only be benefit the merchants here." It will be available in Mandarin later this year. But retailers say that's not good enough. Tourist group VisitBritain estimates the UK is missing out on £1 billion in lost revenue to other European cities.