FRANKFURT Nov 28 In the gleaming open spaces of
a duty free store at Frankfurt airport, 32 year old Benny from
China is ticking off items on his shopping list with the aid of
the airport's new Mandarin-speaking personal shopper, Wasim
"It's a great service," Benny, a student who was in Germany
visiting friends, said in Chinese, displaying a shopping list on
his iPhone that includes Estee Lauder face creams at 50 euros
($64.65) apiece as presents for his wife and friends.
Frankfurt airport's new personal shopper service is just one
example of how leisure and travel firms in crisis-stricken
Europe are trying to tap the seemingly inexhaustible spending
power of Chinese tourists.
The Chinese spent $73 billion on overseas travel in 2011,
according to the UN World Tourism Organization, up 32 percent on
2010, and with growth running at a similar rate they could
overtake Germans as the world's biggest spenders on foreign
travel this year.
In the third quarter alone, tax-free shopping by Chinese
citizens leapt 58 percent, data from tourist shopping specialist
Global Blue show, and in August they accounted for almost 30
percent of all global tax-free sales.
Many are coming to Europe, with Chinese travellers topping
the tax-free shopping leaderboard in cities like London, Paris
and Frankfurt, and even if China's rapid pace of economic growth
starts to moderate, there are signs that trend will continue.
"As yet, less than 2 percent of China's population has
travelled beyond Greater China, so the potential for continuing
growth remains vast, even if China's economy does slow in the
coming years," Global Blue said.
VisitBritain predicts the amount of money spent by Chinese
tourists in Britain each year will jump 157 percent to 618
million pounds ($990 million) by 2020 from 240 million in 2011.
"Seen from a Chinese tour bus, the continent of Europe is
not so much an ancient collection of cities and nations as a
glittering emporium stocked with brands," it said in a recent
While catering for foreign travellers can be expensive, the
rewards of attracting Chinese shoppers into your stores are
huge. The Chinese Tourism Academy estimates Chinese travellers
spend on average around $1,000 on shopping when abroad.
This willingness to spend is driven by a culture of gift
giving and old wisdom that a person away from home should return
with a souvenir, said Xu Jing, Asia Pacific regional director at
the UN World Tourism Organization.
"When travellers from China go to Europe, this is a lifetime
trip and they go out of their way to buy, even if it's out of
their budget," he said, explaining that a box of chocolates just
doesn't suffice as a gift and could even cause offence.
The 1 million travellers from China who come each year
through Frankfurt airport, Europe's third largest, now make up
the biggest customer base for the Heinemann duty free store
there and numbers are growing, said one worker.
"They love Chanel perfume. Some buy 10, 15 bottles at once,"
she said, declining to give her name due to company policy.
The idea of a dedicated advice service for Chinese customers
was proposed by employees at the airport's operator, Fraport,
after cultural barriers became evident among the rows of
expensive European lotions and potions.
"There was a huge language barrier and they often got lost,"
said Fraport customer service manager Thomas Kirner.
Enter Wasim, whose father is Pakistani and mother German,
and who was drawn to Chinese culture and language through a love
of Kung Fu.
"You need a lot of patience - to be flexible, like bamboo,"
said 43-year old Wasim of his job, in which he can also offer to
speak French and English along with German and Mandarin.
News of Wasim's personal shopping service is spreading fast.
On arrival in Frankfurt, many travellers from China simply ask
for "Mr Airport."
($1 = 0.6241 British pounds)
($1 = 0.7733 euros)
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Mark Potter)