Exporting begins at home

Inbound retail tourism from countries such as Russia, Asia and Latin America constitutes one of the only steady areas of economic growth that rises year on year in Europe.
With Chinese spending at Westfield London having risen by 291% during the month of February since 2009, further initiatives to capitalize on Chinese New Year, alongside October’s ‘Golden Week’, are very much on the cards. In 2011, 2.2 million Chinese went abroad over Golden Week , a large proportion of those visiting Paris.

The creators of Bicester Village, Value Retail, have recently opened a sizeable luxury outlet destination in Suzhou, China. Whilst Europe is saturated with shopping centres, China, prior to the opening of Suzhou village, had nothing that matched the level of customer service, nor the desirable surroundings: all of which was thought out to appeal to Chinese sensibilities and aesthetic taste.

Increasingly, UK shopping centres are adapting to welcome an international audience, but it’s not necessarily something new. Harrods has, for many years now, had Mandarin speaking concierge and assistants. Likewise, Bicester Village, the number one retail destination for Chinese tourists (and second only to Windsor Castle as an overall desirable destination), has signposts throughout labelled in Mandarin to make the shopping experience seamless.

Whilst many developers will start to look outside Europe, and high street fashion brands looking to China for future profits, it becomes more crucial than ever to bolster international retail tourism through various marketing strategies. Westfield London has followed suite of the likes of Harrods and Bicester village by also providing the Mandarin speaking concierge service, but in addition, now provides language- adapted mall guides, hands-free shopping and an optimized website. Unlike Bicester village, there is now a selection of Chinese restaurants also available. Traditional dragon dancers will be present throughout both London and Stratford Westfield over the Chinese New Year, as well as Chinese cooking masterclasses.

Bicester’s opening in 1995 has shown unrivalled success in the UK in terms of attracting international retail tourism, and in the current climate, it seems that such an outlook to marketing retail destinations is the future. Bicester village’s appeal has been astounding, and now, so too can the Village at Westfield London, which houses top designer brands and has the added advantage of being located within in a city that is a tourist attraction in itself. Such moves for retail destinations to market themselves abroad are equally encouraged by initiatives such as VisitBritain. Whilst Westfield London is the largest shopping centre in Europe, Paris still takes the lead in terms of Chinese visitors , and pressure is growing for the UK to relax the current visa rules that make visiting more of an ardous process than any of the EU countries in the Schengen zone.

Where first we saw shopping centres market themselves as leisure destinations, now we are seeing the evolution to becoming world attractions. With Westfield setting the ball rolling on the adoption of an international outlook, it remains to be seen what moves we will see from some of the other large retail destinations in the UK. Birmingham, one of the biggest cities after London, will see the existing Chinese community host New Year Celebrations in aid of raising funds for a traditional bridge to mark the city’s China Town. Such developments could provide future opportunity for the already impressive retail destinations there to further capitalize on an international front.

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