Downturn? Not in first class, say China's globetrotting shoppers

Thu Sep 27, 2012 5:03pm EDT
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By Melanie Lee

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Rich Chinese tourists paying $40,000 to hunt elk in Utah or booking the entire first-class cabin for a family flight to France show China's economic slowdown has yet to thin the wallets or dull the appetites of its deep-pocketed elite.

China's "Golden Week" holiday, a popular time for overseas travel, starts on Saturday. This year it coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival to create a rare eight-day break, and visitors to Europe will not be there to get a taste of austere living.

Helen Shen, a travel planner in Shanghai, said a private business owner had booked the whole first-class section of a Lufthansa jet to fly his family of four to Paris this month.

Shen is one of many luxury travel organizers who still see the money rolling in from executives and members of the "fu er dai" - the second generation of wealthy families - despite China's economic uncertainty.

"If you look at your affluent Chinese overseas, they are your tourist, your shopper, your investor all in one," said Christine Lu, co-founder of Affinity China, a Shanghai-based luxury travel firm.

"Even though there is all the talk of a slowdown in China, the luxury sector we are dealing with is a segment that can still afford to travel," Lu said.

This is good news for luxury brands facing the prospect of weaker demand within Greater China as Beijing cracks down on conspicuous consumption at home.

In the rest of the world, rich Chinese tourists are famed for their lavish spending. To avoid steep sales taxes at home, many of them unleash the cash on deluxe goods and premium cosmetics with every stamp of their passports.   Continued...