The bosses of Harrods and Harvey Nichols have again called on the government to make it easier for high-spending Chinese shoppers to visit London by relaxing visa restrictions.
Harrods managing director Michael Ward, who has been vocal on the subject before, told delegates at the Walpole Luxury Summit that the government should make it easier for Chinese shoppers to come to London rather than other parts of Europe.
Ward said: “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.
“Four years ago, China represented about a third of our American business, now it is four times our American business.”
Ward said that there had been no deterioration in sales growth from Chinese shoppers which continued to be at “absolute record levels”.
Harvey Nichols chief executive Joseph Wan said that only 13% of sales over the past five years at the iconic department store business came from overseas spending.
He said: “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 he was also looking to open a store in mainland China in the future.
He said: “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. There is no point just rushing in there.”
He added the lack of a middle class in China meant the finances behind a store wouldn’t add up.
He said: “With a multi-brand retailer the margins are much lower than luxury retailers, and the space we would need is bigger. In terms of finances it’s not easy for us to make it work unless you can get a significant volume of business, and the lack of a middle class means you currently can’t. But I’m sure this point will come.”
He said the country is growing so quickly a store could be viable in two to three years.