Claims of unfair treatment of Chinese travelers at a World Duty Free shop at Heathrow Airport triggered outrage on Chinese social media over the weekend.
The controversy revolves around allegations that a shop run by the World Duty Free, the largest travel retailer in the UK, at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 has raised the minimum purchase price for Chinese travelers to enjoy discounts.
Chinese travelers reportedly need to spend 1,000 pounds (1,400 U.S. dollars) to receive a 20-percent discount the next time they shop at the store, when shoppers of other nationalities could get the VIP voucher after forking out no more than 250 pounds (around 350 U.S. dollars).
The instance of preferential treatment came to light on Saturday, when a firsthand account was published by a user on China's Twitter-like Weibo, who goes by the name @Renjiannaipao, and then shared by the account of an online magazine called @HereInUK on Weibo and instant messaging app WeChat.
@Renjiannaipao said that as a part-time salesman at the World Duty Free shop, he witnessed how Chinese travelers were treated unfairly, recounting what happened with a traveler who bought items worth over 300 pounds.
The assistant accompanied the unnamed Chinese traveler to the counter, but the cashier refused to provide the client with a VIP voucher, arguing that Chinese passengers need to spend 1,000 pounds to receive the 20-percent discount.
The Weibo user said he had no clue that Chinese were singled out and when he complained to the store manager, the latter explicitly said the policy was applied only to shoppers who were departing to China.
The testimony received more than 75,000 shares on Weibo, and over 100,000 views on WeChat with Chinese users sharing similar experiences.
"I shopped [at World Duty Free] at Terminal 2 and I was told I should spend 450 pounds to be eligible for the voucher. It seems that the voucher follows seasonal pricing," @Yunxiaoyunyaohaohaodushu commented on Weibo.
"Several years ago, I spent around 100 pounds and got the voucher. Several days ago, I went shopping [at the World Duty Free shop] and had a bad shopping experience," @GakkerrQ complained on Weibo.
@HereInUK on Sunday approached the shop for clarification regarding the alleged unfair policy and discount criteria.
On Monday, the magazine announced on its WeChat account that the shop said the VIP voucher is now applied to all customers no matter their destination, but added that no answer was provided to the list of questions @HereInUK sent.
Over 130 million Chinese tourists traveled abroad in 2017, a seven-percent increase from a year earlier. According to China Tourism Academy, outbound Chinese tourists spent 261 billion US dollars in 2016.
Aware of the purchasing power of Chinese holidaymakers, international brands have introduced mobile payments such as WeChat Pay and Alipay – already a big hit in China.
Still, stories about discriminatory incidents and unpleasant experiences surface every now and then.
A Chinese national, called @MelbourneGuest on Weibo, recalled on Monday his working experience at a duty free shop in Melbourne where his managers asked him not to tell shoppers that they can get vouchers for some purchases, and cited a local customer as saying, "This is way too expensive. These are not tax-free items. I can buy [these items] for half the price from other shops!"