press enter to search

Chinese tourists upset over 'duty-free' discrimination at London airport

News Desk

The Straits Times/Asia News Network

London  /  Tue, February 13, 2018  /  12:35 pm
Chinese tourists upset over 'duty-free' discrimination at London airport

Duty free shops at Heathrow Airport in London, United Kingdom, on June 23, 2015. (Shutterstock/File)

London's Heathrow Airport has apologized for a promotion at its duty-free stores that required Chinese shoppers to spend a higher amount than other travelers to enjoy a special discount.

Chinese travelers were asked to pay a minimum spend of £1,000 (S$1,831) to receive a 20-per cent discount voucher subsequent purchases, while other shoppers needed to spend only £250 to receive the same offer, reported BBC News.

The promotion is run by Heathrow Airport's commercial partner World Duty Free.

The unfair policy sparked outrage on social media after a Chinese student who worked at the store posted about it on China's widely-used microblog platform Weibo on Sunday. The post was viewed over 10 million times.

The part-time sales assistant at Terminal 2 said that he tried to get the voucher for a Chinese woman who had around 300 pounds' worth of Chanel products in her shopping basket, but the cashier told him she needed to spend 1,000 pounds because she was Chinese.

The store manager, according to news website Sixth Tone, later told him that the offer was indeed a "little bit unfair."

Read also: Chinese tourists are taking over the Earth, one selfie at a time

"I've been in England for seven years. This is the first time that I've felt injustice and racism so deeply," wrote the student, who also referred to store management as "white-skinned pigs."

Other travellers responded with their experiences, some vowing not to shop at the airport again.

@Julialovekshwrote on Twitter: "Will never shop in the duty free store at Heathrow any more. Chinese customers deserve to be treated with respect!! What a hideous and discriminating event to happen in 2018!! Disgusting."

@QianyunZhu_zqy tweeted: "Shame on you World Duty Free! When celebrating Chinese New Year with promotion info in Twitter, please remember Chinese customers are still waiting for your official explanation and apology for the racial discrimination. What a racist and two-faced company."

"Imagine if this was another race, this incident would have already been a huge talking point," read one comment which received 2,000 likes.

"Chinese people are not respected outside of the country," added another user, while one asked, "Where do Chinese people go to get respect?"

Read also: Bali ready for more Chinese tourists after lifting of travel warning

On Monday, World Duty Free - one of hundreds of independent stores at Heathrow - issued a statement on Weibo, saying that it had investigated and rectified the issue.

The company, which is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, did not respond to requests from the China Daily newspaper for an explanation of whether it did indeed discriminate against Chinese travelers.

Heathrow Airport also apologised on Weibo and Twitter, saying that the retailer now "offers the same benefits for travelers to all destinations."

Chinese tourists are increasingly seen as big spenders across the world.

Chinese travelers accounted for a quarter of Heathrow's duty-free sales in 2015, though they made up only one per cent of passengers that year, according to travel website Mafengwo's global travel shopping report.

During the October Golden Week travel period in 2017, Chinese tourists spent 29 million pounds in shopping districts across the UK.

The number of Chinese visitors to the UK increased by 33 per cent in 2017.

They collectively spent 667 million pounds, according to UK tourism authority VisitBritain.

This article appeared on The Straits Times newspaper website, which is a member of Asia News Network and a media partner of The Jakarta Post