hina Report: In our launch issue back in 2013, we reported on the popularity of Bicester Village for Chinese tourists visiting the UK. Five years on, you now have 11 Villages worldwide including two in China. What’s so special about the Village?
Desirée Bollier: We wanted the Villages to be a destination, nearby a tourism hub or a major capital city, that would attract sophisticated travellers from around the world. That consistency of strategic decisions has allowed us to build brick-by-brick, model-by-model, our vision of what it is today. And [after] 22 years in the making, we are finally launching the Bicester Village Shopping Collection.
We used to refer to it as the Chic Outlet Shopping Collection when we created an umbrella brand as a point of reference for the Travel Trade, to address all the various different Villages. But 22 years on,
Bicester Village represents worldwide, hands down, from every criterion and every benchmark – be it Real Estate or guest experience, or financial return from investors and guests – a recognisable brand destination in its own right. Having the Bicester Village Shopping Collection was pretty much a logical step in the maturity of our business. It’s similar to the Dorchester Collection concept. You go to Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Hotel has its own personality, but as a traveller, you know that the Beverly Hills Hotel is going to give you that superb experience because it is a part of the Dorchester Collection.
Our traveller, our guest, doesn’t even realise that La Vallée in France or Las Rozas in Spain are all the same family and the Bicester Village Shopping Collection is going to help accelerate that recognition and that stamp of excellence, authenticity and delivery.
Ours has been a journey of building something quite unique, where a combination of skills allowed us to look at our Villages not as simple assets but creating true destinations where we agonised over detail from the moment we identified a location. The strategic thinking behind it was coherent, strategic across the last 22 years.
CR: Are you unifying the brand and creating a consistent thread throughout all Villages?
DB: Absolutely, La Vallée is going to be a member of the Bicester Village Shopping Collection in the same way that our Shanghai Village will be a member too. So, in China, if you know of Bicester Village, you would know by association what you are about to experience. And once you get to the Village, you would immediately recognise the valet parking, the hands-free shopping, the hospitality, and the layer of sophistication that is offered at Bicester.
CR: So Bicester Village has become the reference point. How are you going to communicate the group’s rebranding to your customer base?
DB: We started a soft launch internally through town hall meetings, brand books and internal rebranding exercises. Externally, the big launch will take place on April 19, a major celebration across all 11 Villages.
Every Village will be hosting a mini-launch, along with a larger official event in Shanghai where we haven’t done a big celebration of its opening. This will be a good opportunity to do a grand opening and launch the Bicester Village Shopping Collection. Coincidentally, I will be in Buenos Aires at the World Travel and Trade Council (WTTC) conference (as an Executive Committe member of the WTTC) at that time and will be making an announcement from there.
CR: With nine Villages across Europe and two in China, how do you ensure that the Villages are kept relevant to each different country and adapted to the local culture?
DB: We look at consumer behaviour and what is the commonality of it across different regions. We focus on what really needs to be curated, customised, broken down into a point of generating emotions in you.
Consumers are looking for instant gratification of all sorts. In our everyday life on a slide of a finger you get a Didi, or an Uber to your front door, or a coffee... Instant gratification has become a commodity in our everyday life. It’s a given and with that comes a host of problems, and opportunities at the same time.
When your day-to-day is so easily commoditised, frictions become very intolerant. You don’t want your leisure time to have any friction, you want it to be frictionless, so your demands for services, your demands on entertainment, on happiness are different today; your requirements are different. We, as a business, have to be attuned to that, what does it mean in China, what does it mean in Europe?
CR: Where would the Chinese consumer fit in that spectrum?
DB: First of all, the Chinese are extremely digitally connected. WeChat today is the [major] form of communication, it is not a social platform, it has become the widest communication platform of any kind. We see that reflected in our business, we have instant feedback from our guests. They love it, they don’t love it. They want it, they don’t want it. And we engage with them. Constantly on WeChat, that personalised engagement has allowed us to link to that guest.
Secondly, paying through your phone is a normal thing for a Chinese customer.
Nobody carries money, to an extent that people are starting to forget what hard cash looks like! Europe is far behind; the millennials are starting to really push for it but there is a gap of a decade between what’s happening in China and what’s happening in Europe. We live in interesting times, we are right in the middle of wanting all our brands to accept Alipay across our European Villages too. The speed of application adoption rate in China is something that you don’t see happening in Europe.
CR: It was different from when you accepted China Union Pay, wasn’t it?
DB: China Union Pay was the first step. Now it’s Alipay, but not just Alipay, it should be Apple Pay, it should be Google Pay, it should be virtual pay. That’s where the world is going, that’s what millennials want. The adoption rate of China is so rapid, so fast, so fascinating. Our European business is benefiting immensely from our Chinese business because we are learning so much and bringing this back to Europe. We are really pushing our teams to think China speed. China speed is fascinating to me, it’s not about why, it’s about why not, and the adoption is two weeks, not two years. That’s the difference!