Discriminatory duty-free event at Heathrow Airport invokes Chinese wrath

Heathrow Airport

Hell hath no fury like a Chinese tourist scorned. Source: Shutterstock.com

HEATHROW Airport has apologized for a duty-free discount event that was deemed “racist” and “discriminating” toward Chinese travelers.

Held by the London airport’s commercial partner World Duty Free, the promotion required all shoppers to spend GBP250 (US$347) to receive a 20 percent discount voucher for subsequent purchases. Well, almost all shoppers.

Chinese shoppers were startled to find they were required to spend a higher amount – GBP1,000 (US$1,387) – to receive the same offer.

The discovery was made by a part-time sales assistant when he tried to get the voucher for a Chinese woman who had around GBP300 worth of Chanel products in her shopping basket. The cashier told him she needed to spend GBP1,000 “because she’s Chinese”. He then complained to the store manager, who told him the policy was applied only to shoppers who were departing to China.

The part-time sales assistant later took to his Weibo (a Chinese social media platform) to publish a first-hand account of the incident, writing: “I’ve been in England for seven years. This is the first time that I’ve felt injustice and racism so deeply.”

His post was viewed over 10 million times.

Source: Ren Jia Nai Pao.

It didn’t take long for the news to spread on Weibo, and later to Facebook.

Some netizens have suggested the incident could be linked to the growing spending power of Chinese tourists. “Shame on them they knew exactly what they were doing because they knew Chinese had money so hoped they wouldn’t know better BUSTED A******S ,” wrote Facebook user David Brian Reihana.

Other Chinese travelers simply said Chinese customers deserve to be treated with respect and vowed they are not going to shop at Heathrow Airport again.

World Duty Free later released a statement to say that it had investigated and rectified the issue.

“As a global company, we are committed to treating all our customers with respect and in a consistent and fair way. We would like to offer our sincere apologies to our customers who were in any way made to feel this was not the case,” World Duty Free said.

“After close self-examination and having made further investigations, we have taken urgent steps to correct the implementation of this promotion going forward.”

“We have comprehensively re-briefed our staff in our stores to ensure that the promotion is clear. This offer applies regardless of the destination customers are flying to. Once again, we would like to take this opportunity to apologize profusely to all our valued customers.”

Heathrow Airport has also apologized.

The Independent quoted a Heathrow spokesman as saying: “We find this offer completely unacceptable. We have been in touch with World Duty Free and have made it clear that all passengers should be treated with fairness and respect. This has fallen short of expectations from our retailers and we apologize for the offence this retailer has caused.”

Chinese netizens stormed Heathrow Airport’s Facebook post dated Feb 8, which featured an image of a Chinese lion dance troupe that was going to perform at the airport’s Terminal 4 and Terminal 5.

World Duty Free also released a statement on Weibo but that, too, was ripped apart.

Xinhua writer Gu Zhenqiu wrote that the Chinese (Weibo) version of the statement mentioned “the Chinese public” and “the emotion of indignation and doubts about this company” explicitly but their equivalents cannot be found in the English version.

“The Chinese text was obviously intended to iron out the outrage of the Chinese people both in China and in Britain, but its obscure and ambiguous English version revealed the true attitude of the company as it omitted keywording in the Chinese version,” Gu said.

In 2017, the number of Chinese visitors to the UK increased by 33 percent. According to UK tourism board VisitBritain, they collectively spent GBP667 million (US$925 million).