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Theft From Chinese Tourists a Problem for European Luxury Retailers

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Chinese tourists are being targeted by Paris pickpockets and muggers — and luxury brands that benefit from tourist dollars are worried the crimes may put people off visiting the city.

As long as there has been tourism, there have been tourists who have fallen prey to big-city thieves. But several factors make the current crop of Chinese tourists — who often come to Europe to snap up luxury goods at cheaper prices than they can back home, thanks to lower taxes — especially vulnerable. Women's Wear Daily had no trouble talking to a Chinese tourist who had her iPhone stolen while she was in mid conversation, another who was robbed by two women, and two friends, traveling together, who were robbed separately of €1000 cash near the Eiffel Tower, and of €600 plus several full shopping bags from Galeries Lafayette on the metro.

The man who was surrounded on the subway, Hu Shuzan, says the police did nothing. "I called the police later and they told me these are confirmed criminals from Romania on the subway," said Hu. "I don't know why they were just blaming foreigners and never took any action against them."

Chinese tourists are especially at risk in Paris and cities like it for a variety of reasons. They stand out from the local population, and any Chinese person traveling abroad is perceived to be wealthy. And because of Chinese banking restrictions, daily withdrawal limits are often as low as $100 or $200 and Chinese credit cards often don't work overseas, forcing these tourists to deal in cash and sometimes to carry large sums, for instance if they plan to go shopping. And low rates of street crime in China may mean that Chinese tourists are less cautious when in public than tourists from other countries. "I think Chinese people are easily robbed," says Xu Xi, who was robbed of an iPhone. "There's a belief that every bag on a Chinese person contains at least one watch."

Around one million Chinese tourists visit France every year, and rich Chinese looking to avoid high luxury taxes in mainland China often go to Europe prepared to spend big. Organized shopping tours through France and Italy have become big business for top European retailers. "It is not a major issue for luxury groups yet," an anonymous fashion industry executive told WWD. "The problem is confined to Paris and specific areas. Also we don't have control of the problem. We won't act as sheriffs in the streets. The threat lies more in the media coverage and perception of Paris. Down the road, tourists could choose other destinations, such as London." The visas that the U.K. requires of Chinese tourists make London a less attractive destination than France — for now.

The Paris police say they take street crimes and thefts seriously, and have seen results from the deployment of an extra 200 officers in highly trafficked areas this summer. Thefts during the month of May at the Louvre, for example, fell from 120 in 2012 to 30 this year. They've also taken the step of providing official complaint forms in 16 different languages.

— Jenna Sauers

· Chinese Tourists Targeted by Paris Thieves [WWD]
· The Grand Tour [New Yorker]