Dubai, the new trendy shopping destination for Chinese shoppers

Xiao Tiang takes a Louis Vuitton bag gingerly in her hands from the gloved sales assistant, turning it over slowly and pointing out the lining and pattern to her shopping companion. She’s visiting Dubai from China for the second time, and shopping for luxury brands remains at the top of her agenda.
“In China, we have taxes on luxury brands, and sometimes fakes are so good they are sold in real shops, so here it can be cheaper, and we don’t worry about fakes,” said the 32-year-old, shopping with her sister in the Dubai Mall, the region’s largest. “It’s worth the flight to come here and shop and cheaper than going to Paris.”
chinese-tourists-in-dubai-china-elite-focusShe does a twirl in the crowded aisle in front of the store, pointing out her beige Christian Louboutin pumps and colorful Missoni dress.
Chinese shoppers, rare birds not long ago, are flocking to Dubai’s malls. Up to 25 percent of luxury goods sold in Mall of the Emirates are purchased by Chinese tourists, according to Iyad Malas, chief executive officer of the Majid Al Futtaim group, which has 11 malls across the Middle East including Mall of the Emirates, known for its indoor ski slope.
“So now, it’s about how we market to them,” Mr. Malas said. “For example, many stores are hiring Chinese speakers dedicated to these consumers.” Dior had two Chinese sales assistants in its shoe section on a slow Wednesday afternoon in Mall of the Emirates, both of whom had been there for about a year.
“We do surveys frequently and keep finding, especially over the last year or two, that Chinese tourists are the highest spenders per hit at our luxury stores,” said Peter Walichnowski, chief executive officer of Majid Al Futtaim properties, another division of the company. “Up to 40 percent of their purchases are gifts for family and friends, making them top spenders in our malls.”
Some 214,000 Chinese tourists came to Dubai last year, a nine-fold increase from 25,000 visitors a decade earlier, according to data from the real estate and hotel firm Jones Lang LaSalle. Over the last year alone, there has been a 50 percent increase in Chinese tourists. The retailers are paying attention. According to Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus, a specialized PR agency targeting wealthy Chinese tourists “Dubai is a distinctive destination for Chinese travelers who have already been to New York, London, or Paris. They want to try a different kind of experience here”.
“We have a mix of sales associates from different nationalities in our boutiques, which enables us to provide the best service to visitors in Dubai, including Chinese travelers,” said Louis Ferla, Cartier’s managing director in Dubai.
Luxury brands including Dior, Chanel, Cartier and Louis Vuitton in Dubai are starting to cater more to Chinese consumers. Cartier’s spokesman said that sales to Chinese consumers were a “significant” of total luxury brand sales.
In addition to hiring Chinese sales staff, the malls in Dubai have begun to decorate for Chinese New Year and are making sure that Chinese tour groups stop at all the major malls.
“More retailers are accepting Chinese credit cards in shops, too,” Mr. Walichnowski said.
Data collected by the Majid Al Futtaim group from hoteliers shows that Chinese visitors are lengthening their average stay in Dubai. They are now spending four nights compared to three nights just two years ago. On one of the four nights, they will often stay at the $2,100-per-night Burj Al Arab hotel where 30 percent of guests were Chinese in the first three months of 2012. The remaining nights are usually spent in “obscure two-star hotels to maximize a visitor’s stay,” Mr. Walichnowski said.
“Staying at the Burj for a night is like visiting the Eiffel Tower,” meaning something one needs to do in Dubai, he said. “The Chinese visitors to Dubai are fairly affluent — the ones who like a bottle of wine and a night at the Burj.”
Over time, as airline connections with the east continue to improve, more Chinese travelers will discover Dubai, he predicts.
“With the help of airlines like Emirates, Chinese are becoming major contributors to retail and trade overall, and are coming to Dubai as a stopover to Africa and Europe,” said Hamad Buamim, director general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce.
Analysts say that while European luxury brands are the hot ticket for Chinese consumers in Dubai, Chinese brands are also making their way into local markets.
“Chinese tend to be very brand-conscious luxury shoppers, so it is not surprising that they account for a big share of luxury purchases in Dubai,” said Ira Kalish, director of global economics at Deloitte Research in the United States. “But there is an increasing popularity for home-grown Chinese brands as well.”
Such consumers can go to Dubai’s bargain basement Dragonmart, the largest Chinese trading area outside of China. When it comes to Chinese shoppers, Dubai has them well-covered.

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