Traveling With Cash: What The Richest Tourists Buy

Chinese tourists spend more cash while traveling than tourists from any other country, according to the latest travel research. Coming in ahead of US and German tourists, the Chinese spent about $114 billion while traveling in 2012. The numbers are set to rise even further, according to research by Morgan Stanley. Their figures show that by 2015 it’s expected Chinese tourists could spend more than all of the world’s luxury shoppers combined. China’s National Tourism Administration says that 97 million  left China to travel overseas in 2013, which was an increase of 14 million on the year before.

The huge jump in travel – and particularly luxury travel – is thanks to a booming Chinese economy as well as a fast-growing middle class that has plenty of money to burn. Song Rui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was recently quoted as saying that some foreigners are referring to Chinese tourists as “walking wallets” because of their appetite for luxury.

Chinese tourists love to shop for high-end, authentic designer goods and to have luxurious experiences when they are sightseeing and moving from place to place. They are becoming more adventurous in the destinations they choose to visit, going outside of traditional spots such as Paris, London and Hong Kong. Rich Chinese tourists are most likely to hunt down designer-branded goods, and they tend to fly business class or first class and spend money on luxury accommodation. Countries around the world are rushing to cater for this new breed of high-spending tourists. European Union and Asian countries have even eased visa restrictions so that it’s easier for Chinese tourists to visit – and spend money while they’re there.

The following are 10 items that rich Chinese tourists are most likely to splash cash on while they’re traveling internationally.

10 Luxury Cosmetics - $100+ per item

Chinese tourists have long been traveling overseas to buy luxury cosmetics ranging from Chanel fragrances (costing about $300 for 30mL), Yves Saint Laurent lipsticks (costing $40+ for one) or Dior face creams (costing $100+). A popular destination is South Korea, which is well known in the beauty industry as having some of the latest technology. Of all foreign tourists to South Korea, Chinese (and Japanese) tourists spend the most on cosmetics. In 2011, Chinese tourists accounted for approximately 40% of all sales of beauty products. Amorepacific spokesperson, Sunghae Kweon, says Chinese customers spend up large, sometimes buying as many as five gifts from the expensive Sulwhasoo Timetreasure line, costing almost $900 each.

9 Sightseeing Tours - $100+ per day

Aside from hitting designer shops, Chinese tourists are often interested in seeing the main sights of any new city, and countries around the world are cashing in on this. The classic tourist spots of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Buckingham Palace in London have always been popular. However, as Chinese tourists become more adventurous in their destinations, new hot spots are emerging. In Australia, for example, the small coastal region of Wyong has plans to build a $480-million theme park that’ll include a full-sized Forbidden City replica and a huge temple featuring a giant Buddha. In the Los Angeles area city of San Gabriel, tourists are reportedly “fascinated” by the local government system and a trip to City Hall is a favorite. Thailand is also reaping the rewards, with its mix of culture, temples and beaches. Pattaya has more than a million visitors from China every year.

8 Gambling – $100+ per bet

High-roller gamblers from China – who wager at least $10,000 per visit – currently account for approximately 75% of the global VIP gambling market.  Chinese tourists are big fans of gambling and that’s most evident by the success of Macau, a former Portuguese colony that’s now a special administrative region of China, but not part of mainland China. In 2013, Macau took in about $45 billion from gambling-related activities – up almost 20% from the previous year and largely thanks to an influx of Chinese visitors. Macau is home to the world’s biggest casino, the Venetian Macau. At Christmas 2013, more than 120,000 people per day entered the Venetian and stayed in its 3000 hotel luxury rooms. It’s a true playground, with its own casino, shopping mall, sporting arena, four swimming pools and exhibition hall. It has hosted performances by Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Alicia Keys. The Rolling Stones are coming in March 2014. More resorts are in construction, including Louis XIII which is rumoured to have a suite that costs over $120,000 per night.

7 Expensive Jewelry - $300+

Genuine gold jewelry and high-quality diamonds are on the shopping lists of many Chinese tourists. During the period of Chinese New Year in 2012, Chinese tourists spend over $7 billion internationally on “bling” according to the World Luxury Association. Shops like Tiffany & Co say that their increase in revenue around North America is likely boosted by the increase in Chinese tourists. In the United Arab Emirates, fine gold jewelry – usually of 22 carat or more – has become one of the most popular souvenirs among Chinese people.

6 Five Star Hotels - $300+ per night

Rich Chinese tourists tend to stay in four or five star hotels everywhere they go, and these luxury hotel chains provide special services to make them feel at home. For example, Sheraton, Westin and W hotels (all owned by Starwood) offer slippers, in-room kettles for tea, restaurant menus in Mandarin and Chinese food including noodles. The Marriott has Chinese-speaking sales reps who work in China, and its staff in the USA can speak basic phrases to make guests feel welcome. In New York, the Marriott changed the room numbers on their 44th floor, because many Chinese people consider the number four to be bad luck. The Hilton has offered slippers to guests designed by Vivienne Tam, a famous Chinese fashion designer now based in New York City.

5 Designer Handbags - $500+

All major tourist destinations are catching on to one thing about the shopping habits of rich (and middle class) Chinese tourists – they love authentic, luxury handbags. They will happily queue up to get their hands on a luxury Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada or Coach handbag, usually costing $500 or more. Traditionally, fake handbags sold in China have been a big industry but many Chinese people would never dream of buying a fake these days. They want the real deal and they often travel internationally to get it. Buying handbags in airports and on airplanes is becoming a bigger business among Chinese tourists, largely due to tax savings. In 2012, sales from travel retail were at over $55 billion according to research by Generation Research, and it’s expected to continue to grow as Chinese tourists spend even more.

4 Luxury Swiss Watches - $1000 and up

Rich Chinese tourists flock to the small city of Lucerne in Switzerland to purchase watches with price tags ranging from $1000 to $100,000 and more. The spokesman for Bucherer, the biggest seller of watches in Lucerne, says that the country is a “dream destination” for these tourists and that part of their dream is to buy a beautiful watch. The company has been working with the Swiss Tourism Board since to increase the number of tourists and have been targeting the Chinese market since the 1990s. President of the Swiss-Chinese chamber of commerce, Kurt Haerri, says that Chinese tourists visit Lucerne with the primary goal of buying watches, and that the number of Chinese tourists is set to grow even further. Other countries are also benefiting from Chinese tourists’ desire for luxury watches. UK watch-making company, Bremont, sells high-end watches that take two years to make and are worth up to $30,000. Co-founder Giles English says that the appetite of Chinese tourists for purchasing Bremont products is “unbelievable”.

3 Designer Clothes – up to $5,000 

Chinese tourists are attracted by prices that can be up to 30% cheaper than at home, largely due to tax refunds and the strength of the Chinese currency. Shoppers will seek out classic, name-brand clothing such as Hermes silk scarves (which can cost $800 or more) and Burberry trench coats (which can cost over $2000 each). Designer stores all over the world are adjusting the way they target this new breed of tourists and meet their demands. Harrods, which is a huge, high-end retailer in London, now has 70 staff members who can speak Mandarin. On top of that, they offer a personal shopping and concierge service for Mandarin shoppers and they also accept payment via China UnionPay, which is China’s bankcard network.

2 First Class Travel - $12,000 Beijing to New York

Research by China Elite Focus shows there are more than a million luxury Chinese tourists who prefer to fly first class or business class. Air China now offers 11 flights per week from Beijing to New York. This is the only airline that has first-class service on this route. Round-trip flights for one adult return between Beijing and New York would cost approximately $12,000. This includes 180-degree, lie-flat seats with the ultimate level of privacy. Upholstery is made of natural wool and leather. Each guest gets a touch-screen TV and noise-cancelling headphones. A wardrobe and extra storage areas are available too. Other airlines are jumping on the bandwagon and upping their luxury offerings for Chinese tourists. Lufthansa first-class flights from Hong Kong to Frankfurt now including a full-length, window-side bed alongside the seat.

1 Holiday Homes – $300,000 and up 

Chinese tourists have started buying property, mainly holiday homes, in international destinations outside of traditional spots such as London and New York. Two of the biggest emerging markets among Chinese property buyers are Germany and Belgium. Belgian property sales, for example, were 20 times higher last year than the year before and were worth $453 million. Chinese buyers account for a large number of those sales. Florida in the United States is also a very popular destination, with Chinese buyers attracted by the idea of having a vacation home somewhere near the beach in Miami or near Disney World in Orlando. With property prices rising around the world, Chinese tourists are expected to spend even more of their cash on international vacation homes in the coming years.

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