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    Unfair Treatment at Heathrow Angers Chinese Tourists

    Duty-free offer set higher requirements for shoppers flying to China.

    London’s Heathrow Airport apologized on Monday for a shopping offer at one of its duty-free stores that had Chinese customers up in arms over possible discrimination, ahead of the lunar new year peak travel season.

    Retailer World Duty Free had offered a 20-percent discount voucher that could be used on subsequent purchases to “VIP” customers who had reached a minimum spend in the store. But customers traveling to China had to spend at least 1,000 pounds ($1,400) to qualify — raised from 250 pounds — while other shoppers only had to spend 79 pounds, according to one of the store’s employees.

    The unequal criteria gained widespread attention after a Chinese student who worked at the store posted about the issue Sunday on microblog platform Weibo. The part-time sales assistant said that he tried to get the voucher for a Chinese woman who had around 300 pounds’ worth of Chanel products in her shopping basket, but the cashier told him she needed to spend 1,000 pounds because she was Chinese. The store manager later told him that the offer was indeed a “little bit unfair.”

    “I’ve been in England for seven years. This is the first time that I’ve felt injustice and racism so deeply,” wrote the student, who also referred to store management as “white-skinned pigs.” By Tuesday, the post had received over 14,000 comments.

    On Monday, World Duty Free — one of hundreds of independent stores at Heathrow — issued a statement on Weibo, saying that it had investigated and rectified the issue. Heathrow Airport also apologized on Weibo and Twitter, saying that the retailer now “offers the same benefits for travelers to all destinations.”

    Chinese tourists are increasingly seen as big spenders, and the reputation is not unfounded: Chinese travelers accounted for a quarter of Heathrow’s duty-free sales in 2015, though they made up only 1 percent of passengers that year, according to travel website Mafengwo’s global travel shopping report. During the October Golden Week travel period in 2017, Chinese tourists spent 29 million pounds in shopping districts across the U.K.

    Editor: Qian Jinghua.

    (Travelers surrounded by their luggage at Heathrow Airport in London, Sept. 19, 2017. Daniel Leal-Olivas/VCG)