China urges shoppers to turn their backs on foreign goods after Heathrow duty free row
Claims that a store at Heathrow Airport "ripped off" Chinese shoppers have prompted calls in China for the country’s cash-rich consumers to rein in their overseas spending.
The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, suggested in an angry commentary posted on its website that Chinese tourists should turn their backs on foreign goods.
It came after an employee at retailer World Duty Free, which is located at Heathrow, alleged that the store was offering 20 percent discounts on the next visit for consumers who spent £79 or more – but people travelling to China had to spend £1,000.
The claims went viral, forcing the airport and retailer to apologise.
But Chinese web-users were up in arms and state-run newspaper, the Global Times, vented fury at what it claimed was "cultural discrimination" and "ripping off" Chinese consumers.
The People’s Daily joined in with the chorus of disapproval in an article titled: “Heathrow airport has apologised, but the questioning won’t stop”.
“Victims should bravely use the law as a weapon to defend their rights against businesses which are dishonest and do not respect regulations and the rule of law," the commentary said.
“As this shop treats customers differently, should we vote with our feet and stop buying foreign goods?”
Such comments would likely cause alarm among British retailers.
Chinese spending in the UK increased to £231 million during the first six months of last year, up 54 percent from the previous year, according to national tourism agency VisitBritain.
About 115,000 Chinese tourists visited the UK during that period, an increase of 47 percent on the same period in the previous year.
Chinese experts were also suggesting that consumers should alter their spending habits when they are abroad.
Cui Hongjian, the director of the Department of European Studies at he China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that the incident proved "racism festers deeply in the psyche of some British people and should be condemned".
"Chinese tourists should adjust their irrational consumption idea of spending extravagantly when buying products abroad," he said, in comments which were reported indirectly.
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A Heathrow spokeswoman had previously told The Telegraph that it found the offer "unacceptable" and would ensure that "it does not happen again".
Additional reporting by Christine Wei