Analysts now know that the best place to learn about Chinese ultra-rich consumers is not the mainland. Rather the Maldives, double-chain of islands near the equator, proves to be the perfect place to launch a case study of Chinese consumerism. In 2010, more than 118,000 Chinese visited the country: a 109 percent increase from the year before, making the Chinese the number-one inbound market of the Maldives. Tourists here have helped form the new profile of Chinese consumers.
More Chinese are traveling overseas from smaller cities, places where growing middle classes are accumulating more wealth and do not face the financial pinch of rising housing prices and inflation felt by similar demographics in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which, according to Vincent Liu, a partner at BCG in Hong Kong, will eventually impact the spending power of travelers from first-tier cities.
“Many of them are richer than those from major cities,” says Roger Wang, head of Lukintl, a Beijing-based tour company that has taken thousands of Chinese to America since it was founded in 1996. “The tourists from the main cities are mostly from the middle class, while tourists from smaller cities are millionaires or government officials. Usually they have strong spending power.”
According to Wang, this demographic will spend more than $100,000 abroad, using credit cards or with money sent to them via wire transfer from friends. They tend to seek out famous brands.
A close look at these vacationers has enabled luxury companies worldwide to tailor their marketing strategies. “They are eager to buy something, because when they come here, they carry a lot of money,” says Shi Hui Ling, a so-called “guest experience manager,” who was handpicked from a tourism school in Dubai by Six Senses, a resort on a tiny island in an atoll called Laamu, to provide special service to guests from her homeland. “Something unique, they want to buy this. They are looking for handmade [souvenirs], something very natural.”
However, it’s not just the unique that Chinese luxury vacationers are after: they still want the exclusive. Brands like Louis Vuitton are favorites in China and abroad. Travelers have no problem buying familiar products while on vacation, but they want the experience to be different.
“Our Chinese customers are buying more confidently into looks rather than individual pieces,” Jason Beckley, global marketing director at Alfred Dunhill, says. “They’re not impulse shoppers, and they’re discreet—they like a VIP or bespoke room, or even just to be offered tea or water when they are in the store.”
China’s Netizens, the name for the country’s 400 million web users, also offers creative labels the opportunity to enhance customers’ in-store experiences. “I think Internet shopping will be very hot in coming years,” says Wang. “People may choose the goods online and check when going abroad and finally buy. Because people here [in China] always doubt what is imported, I think overseas shops should have this business: reserve online and buy at the shop [abroad].”
To capitalize on the growing number of tourists from smaller cities, retailers abroad would do well simply to have salespeople who speak Chinese. But creating more brand awareness in China — beyond Shanghai and Beijing – will pay off both on the mainland and abroad.