Chinese tourists upset over 'duty-free' discrimination at London's Heathrow Airport

PHOTO: Reuters

A duty-free company that operates at London's Heathrow Airport has apologised after Chinese customers accused it of discrimination.

Chinese social media users alleged Chinese customers had to spend more than 1,000 pounds (S$1,832) to qualify for a discount voucher at World Duty Free. The Chinese social media users claimed customers from other countries had to spend just 79 pounds to receive the 20 per cent discount voucher.

In response to the allegations, World Duty Free issued a statement on Twitter but has still not given a fuller explanation.

"We're grateful for comments shared on social media today regarding our VIP voucher scheme," the statement said. "We've investigated this straight away and identified an issue which we have corrected with immediate effect. Please accept our sincere apologies. The programme applies regardless of the destination customers are flying to. Customer satisfaction remains our highest priority."

The company, which is headquartered in Bern, Switzerland, did not respond to requests for an explanation of whether it did indeed discriminate against Chinese travellers.

A Heathrow Airport spokesperson said: "We have been made aware of this offer which we find unacceptable. We are currently working with our commercial partner to understand how this happened and ensure it does not happen again."

The allegations surfaced on Weibo, when a part-time Chinese employee at the store at the airport's Terminal 2 known as @Renjiannaipao, published allegations on the social media platform.

The claim that Chinese travellers were being discriminated against went viral with people posting to complain about mistreatment.

@Julialovekshwrote on Twitter: "Will never shop in the duty free store at Heathrow anymore. Chinese customers deserve to be treated with respect!! What a hideous and discriminating event to happen in 2018!! Disgusting."

@QianyunZhu_zqy tweeted: "Shame on you World Duty Free! When celebrating Chinese New Year with promotion info in Twitter, please remember Chinese customers are still waiting for your official explanation and apology for the racial discrimination. What a racist and two-faced company."

Increasing numbers of Chinese tourists are visiting the UK and other destinations and they are known for being big spenders. The number of Chinese visitors to the UK increased by 33 per cent in 2017. They collectively spent 667 million pounds, according to UK tourism authority VisitBritain.

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