May 17, 2011
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Luxury stores urge UK to issue more Chinese visas

May 17, 2011

May 17 - Britain could give a boost to the luxury goods industry by relaxing visa restrictions for Chinese travellers, the bosses of high-end department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols told Reuters.

Child showing a UK passport

Michael Ward of Harrods and Joseph Wan of Harvey Nichols, speaking separately on the sidelines of the Walpole Luxury Summit on Tuesday, said the government should make it easier for Chinese to spend their money in London rather than other parts of Europe.

"If the government was going to do one thing for the British luxury industry it should relax visa requirements into the UK for Chinese visitors," Ward said.

"Four years ago, China represented about a third of our American business, now it is four times our American business."

Ward said Chinese sales growth continued to be at "absolute record levels" and there had been no deterioration compared with last year. "That is average transaction value as opposed to consumer numbers, which brings me back to the fact we need more visitors."

Wan said in the past five years only 13 percent of turnover in Harvey Nichols's London stores came from overseas spending.

"Statistics are clearly showing that both Paris and Rome are attracting higher numbers of Chinese travellers than London. The principle reason for that is visa restrictions."

Harvey Nichols, which has one store in Hong Kong, plans to open another. Wan said it was also looking to open a store in mainland China although not in the immediate future.

"We are watching very closely the evolution of that market. It is a combination of needing to understand the local market and the local customers requirements to do good business and build brand value. There is no point just rushing in there."

By Nia Williams
(Editing by Dan Lalor)

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