Gatwick seeks to woo Chinese tourists
Li Jianhua in London
A China Eastern plane takes off from Gatwick. /CGTN
A China Eastern plane takes off from Gatwick. /CGTN

A China Eastern plane takes off from Gatwick. /CGTN

Since China eased its COVID travel restrictions last year, London's Gatwick Airport has been gearing up to welcome an increasing number of passengers. Now the airport is reaching pre-pandemic levels of arrivals from long-haul destinations, with 11 return flights every week between China and Gatwick. 

"The Chinese market is such an enormous market to target for UK airports like Gatwick," Paul Charles, CEO of PC Agency, told CGTN. " There are more and more travelers from China who want to visit the UK and Europe or combine a visit to the UK with a visit to European cities and European countryside." 

He added: "With that in mind, it makes sense for an airport like Gatwick to talk to Chinese carriers, encourage them to look at Gatwick as a cheaper airport to fly into than Heathrow."

A study by VisitBritain (British Tourist Authority) showed that Chinese tourists in the United Kingdom spent about 2.2 billion US dollars in 2019 - before the pandemic erupted - making them the UK's second largest market by value.

According to Stephanie Wear, VP of Aviation Development of Gatwick Airport, "the Chinese are big shoppers (and) it's one of the main reasons that they're coming to the UK. So making sure that we have the right retail offerings, the right food and beverage offerings, making sure that we have the right carriers flying at the right time of day with the right frequencies and making this as good a customer experience as you possibly can." 


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However, there are problems afoot. The British government scrapped the value-added tax (VAT) refund scheme in 2021, with Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Jeremy Hunt saying the UK faces an estimated cost of 1.3 billion pounds (1.6 billion USD) by 2024 by refunding VAT to foreign shoppers. 

Wear called that decision a "disappointment." She told CGTN: "We've seen a decrease in our retail spend at the airport since the tax free shopping was reviewed. And we think it's incredibly important as you look towards the future and you look towards the growth that we want to have here at Gatwick. It's really important to have that [value-added] tax free shopping come back."

Research by the Association of International Retail (AIR) has found that high-spending Chinese tourists are now opting for other European countries, including France, Italy and Spain, where VAT-free shopping is still available. Furthermore, the absence of spending by Chinese tourists due to the so-called 'tourist tax' is costing Britain an estimated $940 million USD annually. 

A more recent study conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has shown that the tax is costing the UK $13.4 billion dollars every year and putting off two million tourists from visiting. 

Now 350 businesses have reportedly sent an open letter to the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, underscoring the fact that tourists are traveling to places where they can claim VAT refunds upon departure. 

Gatwick seeks to woo Chinese tourists

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