By ICSC SCWeek, February 10, 2012
Visa change a boon for shopping centers
Brazilians and Chinese wanting to visit the U.S. will have a much easier time under a presidential order issued in January. “The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” the president said. “It’s that simple.” This is good news for U.S. outlet centers.
Shoppers from Brazil spend some $6 billion annually here (in Florida they outspend British travelers), and the Chinese tourists spend just over $5 billion annually, much of that at discount and outlet stores. But visitors here from those two countries face considerable hurdles trying to obtain visas. The process requires personal interviews at U.S. consular offices, with waits averaging about two months, not to mention hours of waiting in line once the appointment day arrives. Visas for Canada and France are easier to obtain than visas for the U.S. “We’re competing with the rest of the world,” said Rosemary McCormick, president of Shop America Alliance. “The biggest barrier to Chinese visitation right now has nothing to do with currency or desire. It has to do with our visa process.”
Chinese shoppers spend about 50 percent more than the average international traveler, says Ann Ackerman, vice president and marketing director of AWE Talisman. “We market heavily to them,” Ackerman said. “The Chinese have money, and they want to spend. They are very brand-savvy and love upscale brands. This is why they gravitate to outlets.”
Indeed, Chinese consumers are highly motivated to patronize outlet stores, others say. “At U.S. outlet centers Chinese shoppers are seeing items that are almost 80 percent off what they are accustomed to paying for the same brands there,” said Karen Fluharty, a principal of consultant firm Strategy & Style who once lived in Hong Kong.
The U.S. has plans to deploy 100 more consuls to Brazil and China to help ease processing. Other initiatives include expanding an existing program to allow low-risk foreign visitors quicker admission through airport checkpoints and the addition of Taiwan to a list of countries requiring no visa. Four U.S. airports — in Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; Phoenix; and Minneapolis — would be added to the 20 that already have special kiosks for processing such visitors.