The ICSC Blog

New U.S. visa policy bodes well for outlet centers

Brazilians and Chinese who want to visit the United States will have a much easier time under an executive order issued by President Obama on Jan. 19. “The more folks who visit America, the more Americans we get back to work,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

This is good news to outlet centers in the U.S. who thrive on visits from Chinese and Brazilian tourists. Shoppers from Brazil spend about $6 billion annually (and outspend UK travelers in Florida), and Chinese visitors to the U.S. spend just over $5 billion annually, much of it in discount and outlet stores. But Brazilian and Chinese travelers to the U.S. face considerable hurdles trying to obtain visas. The application process requires personal interviews at U.S. Consular Offices, with the wait in both China and Brazil averaging about two months, plus hours of waiting in line once their appointment day arrives.

Rosemary McCormick, president of Shop America Alliance, said visas for Canada and France are easier to obtain than visas for the U.S. “We’re competing with the rest of the world,” she said. “The biggest barrier to Chinese visitation right now has nothing to do with currency or desire. It has to do with our visa process.”

Ann Ackerman, vice president and director of marketing for AWE Talisman, has found that Chinese shoppers spend about 50 percent more than the average international traveler. “We market heavily to them,” she says. “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.”

“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 former resident of Hong Kong and now principal of consultancy Strategy + Style.

The United States plans to deploy 100 more consuls to Brazil and China to reduce visa-processing times. Other actions would expand an existing program to allow “low-risk” foreign visitors to be admitted more quickly through airport security checkpoints and add Taiwan to a list of 36 countries whose citizens do not need visas. Also, four American airports would be added to the 20 that have “Global Entry” kiosks to process such visitors, in Minneapolis, Charlotte, Denver and Phoenix.

For more outlet news, visit ICSC’s outlet industry publication Value Retail News.

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