Times Publications

Chinese outcry at Heathrow duty free ’discrimination’

The World Duty Free shop in Heathrow airport allegedly discriminated against Chinese travellers

Posted by Times News on Monday, 12th February 2018

Britain’s busiest airport was targeted by a wave of anger from Chinese Internet users over allegations that Chinese consumers were being singled out and “ripped off".

The accusations emerged after an employee at retailer World Duty Free alleged they had seen the store offer 20 per cent VIP discount vouchers to customers spending £79 or more, while telling passengers travelling to China they had to spend £1,000 to qualify.

The employee’s account was viewed millions of times and attracted angry comments after being posted on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

The uproar led both Heathrow and the retailer to apologise and comes at a time when Chinese travellers are increasingly important to the UK economy.

A Heathrow spokeswoman told the Telegraph: “We have been made aware of this offer which we find unacceptable. We are currently working with our commercial partner to understand how this happened and ensure it does not happen again.”

The airport told Chinese internet users it was apologising for the "controversy and high emotions" caused by its partner and the retailer had “corrected the issue with immediate effect”.

A spokeswoman for World Duty Free said the firm apologised profusely. She said: “The implementation of this promotion has been confusing which we sincerely regret.

“After close self-examination and having made further investigations, we have taken urgent steps to correct the implementation of this promotion going forward.

“We have comprehensively re-briefed our staff in our stores to ensure that the promotion is clear. This offer applies regardless of the destination customers are flying to.”

But the apologies were not enough to head off a hard-hitting editorial in China’s influential Global Times newspaper which accused the airport of "cultural discrimination" and deception.

The newspaper, which is published by the People’s Daily - the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper - accused Heathrow of taking advantage of what it sees as "rich" Chinese travellers.

Chinese people will be thinking: “Are British people in such great poverty they need to act without any sense of pride in this way?" the popular tabloid said.

“When it comes to reasons behind this, apart from thinking that Chinese consumers are rich, they (Heathrow) may also think it is easy to deceive Chinese consumers and it will be hard to reveal if Chinese are being ripped off…... it is a cultural discrimination."

Chinese anger extracts from Global Times editorial on Heathrow duty free
"The fraudulent policy at the second terminal was caught this time, but we don’t know whether there have been other previous discriminative policies against Chinese people. Neither do we know whether there is discrimination at other terminals or other parts of the UK.

“We must say.... Chinese people have not been prepared mentally for such foul actions by the commercial services at the commercial services at one of Europe’s iconic facilities. "Many Chinese are pretty angry when hearing such news and will at the same time be thinking: ’Are British people in such great poverty they need to act without any sense of pride in this way?"

“This incident has had a huge impact on the public opinion in China because it challages Chinese society’s perception of the UK, and even Europe. “They will think; ‘The UK is nothing more than this - such dirt hiding behind the pretty Heathrow Airport."

"As Heathrow Airport is one the ‘landmarks’ of European civilisation, this not only brings shame to UK, but also leaves a ’negative score’ in the impression of all European shops to Chinese people."

The original post from the part-time employee of World Duty Free warned Chinese consumers: "On the one hand they want to take money from your pocket and on the other hand they treat you like a fool." The anonymous post added: "I have been working in the UK for seven years, but this is the first time I have felt something so deeply unfair, and racist discrimination."

He said he had seen one traveller buy items worth over £300 and had accompanied the passenger to the till. However the cashier refused to hand over a VIP voucher, saying the threshold for Chinese passengers was £1,000. He alleged that when he complained, the store manager said the policy was applied only to shoppers who were departing to China.

Heathrow says around 1.2m Chinese passengers travel through the airport each year.

About 115,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK in the first half of last year, an increase of 47 percent on the same periodic the previous year.

Spending also increased to £231 million, up 54 percent, according to national tourism agency VisitBritain.

Editor: Jimmy Michael

Belt and Road Portal

- is a development strategy proposed by China's paramount leader Xi Jinping that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries.

China Import Export Fair

- or Canton Fair is a trade fair held in the spring and autumn seasons each year since the spring of 1957 in Canton, China.

Department for International Trade

- is a United Kingdom government department responsible for striking and extending trade agreements between the United Kingdom and non EU states.
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