This week, Travel Daily Asia chats with Marcelo Molinari, Group Tourism Director at Value Retail, to discuss how Asia’s outbound tourism boom is driving sales at the company’s collection of “Chic Outlet Shopping Villages” in Europe and China…
Q) How did Value Retail’s 11 outlets perform in 2016; which were your best-performing locations and which experienced the fastest-growth?
2016 marked an exciting year for the Collection of Chic Outlet Shopping Villages. We welcomed 37.4 million guests to our Villages in Europe and China and as a result, the Collection of Villages achieved EUR2.7 billion (approx. US$3.02bn) in total gross sales, up 10% on the previous year.
The most established Village in the Collection, Bicester Village, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Bicester Village is undergoing an expansion, which will launch in autumn 2017. Already among the most visited tourist and shopping destinations in the UK, the addition of 30 new boutiques will add to the exciting selection of the most influential British and international fashion, lifestyle and beauty brands, and strengthen the destination’s reputation as a must-visit on every tourist itinerary
Our Spanish Villages, Las Rozas Village and La Roca Village, continue to perform well and we’re seeing an increase in Chinese guests in both Madrid and Barcelona as Madrid becomes a more desirable destination for Chinese tourists. Our fantastic brand offering and abundance of ongoing events and activities which take place throughout the year ensure our guests receive unforgettable experiences with every visit. For example, this summer The Barcelona Designers Collective returns to La Roca Village, which celebrates young talent and give guests the chance to discover pieces they would not find elsewhere.
Q) Are the majority of your international customers still from China, and how did this market perform in 2016?
China remains our number one international market, followed by the Middle East and Russia*. We have achieved consecutive years of consistent growth in tax-refunded sales. Our tax free sales have grown by 20% year to date with our Chinese guests accounting for nearly 40% of these sales.
Fidenza Village, near Milan, recently achieved the official ‘Welcome Chinese’ accreditation, indicating prestigious recognition of the Beijing government.
Value Retail recently introduced the unique concept of shopping and hospitality in China, with the opening of Suzhou Village and Shanghai Village, where we continue to learn more about the Chinese market. Suzhou Village opened in 2014, located on the spectacular western bank of the Yangcheng Peninsula in historic Suzhou. Shanghai Village, which opened in 2016, was recently awarded “2017 Best New Development Project” for its unique art deco design and relaxing environment at the International Council of Shopping Centers Awards.
Furthermore, four of our Villages in Europe have received Certificates of Excellence from TripAdvisor for 2017: Kildare Village (near Dublin), La Vallée Village (near Paris), Las Rozas Village (near Madrid) and Wertheim Village (near Frankfurt). We also offer a number of MICE experiences to companies around the world, where they are able to host unique, customised events guests for employees and business partners. In 2016, we hosted more than 1,000 events across the Collection of Villages for over 6,000 participants, with more than a third of whom were from China.
With a rise in city breaks, our Villages are a perfect addition to a European holiday experience. Throughout the year, we see a surge in Chinese tourists travelling to Europe, and with this in mind our Villages are convenient and accessible; located just outside of some of Europe’s favourite gateway cities. With this in mind, we are expecting an incredible summer and Golden Week this year across the Collection of Villages.
Q) How are you working with travel trade partners to attract Asian visitors, and what services do you offer to specifically for travellers from this region?
Our Chic Outlet Shopping Villages offer attractive benefits for guests and we currently hold over 400 global partnerships, many of which are targeted to benefit our Asian guests.
Across all our European Villages, UnionPay International card holders can receive a VIP Card for additional savings on their purchases upon presentation of their card. For Ctrip cardholders, they can collect a VIP Card and up to 1.5% cash back on their purchases.
The Collection of Chic Outlet Shopping Villages also partner with airlines including Air China and China Eastern. Eastern Miles members can earn three Eastern Miles points for every pound or euro spent on qualifying purchases at the nine Villages in Europe or CNY10 (approx. US$1.50) spent at Suzhou Village in China, while Air China Phoenix Miles members can earn six Air China Miles points for every pound or euro spent at the nine Villages in Europe.
Finally, 2018 will be an important milestone as the European Travel Commission has announced it EU-China Tourism Year, with a view to increasing travel and tourism between China and the EU. Value Retail is a key partner in this initiative, with a leading role as the key retail tourism destination for Europe.
Q) Which products are proving most popular with Asian visitors, and are you seeing any major trends in this area?
Our insights have suggested that Asian guests are forward-thinking when it comes to planning overseas visits, and often researching brands in advance of visiting our Villages. The most popular items include accessories (shoes, handbags, and smaller gift items), all of which are widely available throughout our Villages. We have noticed that local brands have particular appeal to our Chinese guests, as these are not readily available in China.
Our Chinese guests also like to express their individuality and we have a number of European brands that enable them to do so – Spanish brand Bimba y Lola and British classic Vivienne Westwood are particularly popular with this market.
We are conscious of providing our guests with experiences that are relevant and engaging, so this means keeping up with the major fashion movements. New WeChat accounts at La Vallée Village and Bicester Village ensure Chinese guests never miss out on the latest news, brands and offers available at the Collection of Villages.
Since we are a destination, we try to find the best ways to convey the experience of the Village and all the brands and styles our guests can experience. We partner with style influencers and invite them for extended visits to the Villages where they showcase their favourite looks and convey their personal experience to their audience; part of this is the unique setting of our Villages, all open-air boulevards.
Most recently, we partnered with stylist to the stars and Influencer, Ma Tianyo, and model, Xie Xin, to showcase the great brands unforgettable experiences our Villages offer. As a result, their Weibo and WeChat platforms continue to showcase stories and imagery of their unique experiences to their fans.
Q) Other than China, are any Asian markets – such as India or ASEAN countries – seeing strong growth?
We have seen incredible growth in India; in the last year it has come into our top ten markets in terms of tax-refunded sales and we are aiming to capitalise on this momentum. We are also now seeing triple digit growth from Malaysia and Indonesia and 70% and 80% from Singapore and Thailand, which is becoming an important source market thanks to big MICE groups.
Q) Is Value Retail planning to launch any new retail outlets in future, and if so, where will these be located?
At this moment in time, we are focusing on continuing to enhance and develop our current Villages rather than launching new destinations. For those travelling to the UK this autumn, guests will be able to enjoy a newly expanded Bicester Village, near London, which will showcase an additional 30 boutiques with superior guest services – offering unrivalled hospitality and shopping for every guest.
We also unveiled a EUR30 million expansion at Fidenza Village, near Milan at the end of 2016. The enhanced Village, with 3,500 square metres of additional space, now offers 20 additional boutiques and an Italian restaurant, Il Villano.
With these exciting expansions, we also ensure that we have a strong selection of brands for our guests and look to constantly evolve these with additional pop-ups throughout the year.
* Source: Global Blue, Premiere Tax Free, Worldwide Tax Free and Fexco