Working for the Yangtze dollar!

British businesses are adapting to cash in on the influx of China's big spenders. Genevieve Roberts and Sheri Hall investigate

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Properties and travel tours with price tags containing the lucky number 8, fish tanks and money trees in shops, and congee and dumplings for breakfast. These are all tricks of the trade used by those trying to court the Yangtze Dollar.

As the number of high-spending visitors from mainland China rises, tourist spots and shops, hotels and businesses in Britain are trying to encourage their custom.

The Hippodrome Casino opens in central London in a fortnight, with one exit on to Chinatown decorated in metallic colours according to feng shui principles housing a separate Chinese community centre. Harvey Nichols announced last month that it would be introducing Chanel and Christian Dior to its store to appeal to overseas customers, and a sea-view property in Dorset has just gone on the market for £888,000 – seen as lucky as number 8, ba, sounds similar to the word for wealth, fa.

With the number of Chinese visitors rising 35 per cent last year to 150,000 and expected to double by 2020, the Chinese tourist market is growing increasingly important to the UK. Not least because the average Chinese visitor to Britain spends around £1,700 – three times the average of £567.

Stephen Boxall, managing director of the Ritz, said: "Chinese clientele have become some of the world's most discerning spenders, consistently listing Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton as some of their favourite brands. Looking at the impressive double-digit growth in sales to wealthy Chinese tourists at both Harrods and Selfridges since the introduction of UnionPay terminals, it is clear this is a market with a significant expendable income, a desire for luxury brands and an increasingly well-travelled population who are looking to spend in the UK."

Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications at VisitBritain, said: "China is clearly one of the most important markets. This is why we're making every effort to not only showcase Britain's culture and heritage, but also show exciting city life, our music scene, that our shopping is the best and that we have beautiful countryside."

But plans to set up Britain's first purpose-built Chinese holiday resort in Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, were put on hold this year after the Welsh government said designs were unacceptable.

The report of the Design Commission for Wales into the 100-bed hotel and 80 holiday home resort, with signs in Mandarin and English, read: "The bland, disparate and rootless architectural language, designed to appeal to international clients irrespective of site and location, does not do justice to the quality appropriate for this site."

Lamidi Evbuomwan, an architect with contractors Maxhard, said in May: "It is unfortunate that the plans have been delayed because I believe this project would have regenerated the area."


British racing is launching a multi-lingual website with Mandarin and Cantonese to promote itself to international tourists. While many racecourses serve Chinese fast food, Richard Mounsey, spokesman for the British Horseracing Associations said it was "quite a way from what you would pick up on the streets of Shanghai". The Hippodrome casino, opening on 13 July, has a back entrance opening on to Chinatown. The principles of feng shui have been adhered to on the Chinatown side, with metallic colours on the south side of the building. It also has a Chinese community centre with separate entrance, Chinese-speaking staff and all paperwork in Chinese. Chairman Simon Thomas said: "There is a dedicated cabaret theatre, which will see Chinese cabaret, and we will also be celebrating all of the Chinese holidays."

Tour operators and travel

VisitBritain is overtly courting the Chinese. It sent a Queen lookalike over to Shanghai for the Jubilee as well as a 3D canvas in Shanghai so people could virtually visit Buckingham Palace. Windsor Castle and London Bus Tours offer Chinese brochures and audio guides. The Roman Baths in Bath now attract 60,000 mainland Chinese visitors a year since translating their website into Mandarin.

Glamorous Travel will use the numbers eight and six on tour car number plates and hotel rooms, but avoid the figure four as it is associated with death. Any tour price containing that figure is upgraded to five. Chief executive Yan Zhang said: "Our clients like attending exclusive clubs, especially the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, because those universities are highly regarded by Chinese internationals."


High-end stores are courting customers from China. Burberry said that 30 per cent of UK sales were to Chinese customers last year.

Harvey Nichols is introducing classic brands such as Chanel and Christian Dior, as they appeal to foreign shoppers, while Harrods and Selfridges have China UnionPay terminals instore. Harrods reported a 40 per cent increase in sales to Chinese customers after introducing more than 100 terminals. Chinese shoppers spent an average of £3,500 over Christmas 2010. The prestigious department store hopes this figure will double over the next five years. Selfridges is offering Chinese language lessons to staff.

The designer store outlet Bicester Village is such a success – it has become the UK's most visited Chinese tourist destination outside London – that when David Cameron met the Chinese ambassador for advice on enticing more Chinese to Britain, the ambassador suggested to the Prime Minister that the UK should be building more just like it.

Feng shui

The Chinese art of maximising good energy – qi – is being adopted by homeowners and businesses. There has been a 10 per cent increase in people joining the Feng Shui Society in the past year, and a similar increase in the number of Chinese people contacting the society when they are buying, selling or renting property. The South-east is known as the wealth corner, and it is auspicious to place a fish tank or money plants to encourage prosperity.

The society's Jan Cisek says businesses are especially keen. Brands including Coca-Cola, Orange, British Airways, Hiscox Insurance, Hilton Hotels and Marriott Hotels all use feng shui in a variety of business-related ways. High street banks also observe certain principles, such as rounding the corners within branches to avoid sharp lines.


The magic number 8 – associated with wealth – has led to Sotheby's Realty setting a guide price of £888,000 for a penthouse apartment overlooking the beach on the Sandbanks peninsula in Dorset.

Peter Bevan, head of UK Sotheby's International Realty's Mayfair office, said he believes that after China's currency is internationalised "the mainland Chinese could be the dominant purchaser in the London property market". He said clients are often looking for investment properties which their children move into while studying, so locations close to leading universities are popular. Ultra-wealthy Chinese buyers look to Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Belgravia and Kensington specifically for new freehold houses or luxury apartment blocks.

Harrods Estates has received an increasing amount of interest from Asian buyers, with 42 per cent of its sales coming from Asia.


Congee for breakfast and Chinese tea in the bedroom, along with noodles and Chinese newspapers, are all touches designed to appeal to discerning Chinese tourists at London's top hotels. At the Ritz, numbers of Chinese guests have trebled since the hotel introduced China UnionPay (China's only domestic bank card) terminals. Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking staff have increased, and guests arrive to find chrysanthemum tea, Chinese biscuits and Chinese magazines and newspapers in their bedrooms. A butler can advise on stores accepting UnionPay.

The Dorchester offers Dragon's Pearl tea and noodles with Chinese newspapers, and ensures Chinese-speaking staff will be on duty.

Hilton Hotels run to Chinese teas in rooms as well as slippers and a dedicated Chinese TV channel. Apex hotels translated their website into Mandarin in February and in two months saw revenue grow by 676 per cent.