LONDON: A company which operates duty-free stores in Europe has apologised after reports that it discriminated against Chinese travellers at Heathrow airport in implementing its VIP voucher programme.
Chinese customers were asked to spend more than £1,000 (US$1,383) to qualify for a discount voucher at the World Duty Free outlet at Terminal 2, while customers from other countries needed £79 to receive the 20 per cent discount voucher.
"As a global company, we are committed to treating all our customers with respect and in a consistent and fair way," said World Duty Free in a statement on its social media accounts on Tuesday (Feb 13).
"We would like to take this opportunity to apologise profusely to all our valued customers."
The accusations emerged after Weibo user Ren Jian Nai Pao wrote in a blogpost dated Feb 11 that he was a student who worked part-time at the duty-free shop and had seen a Chinese customer treated unequally.
He said the customer had around £300 worth of products in her shopping basket, and that he advised her to buy those items first to get the VIP voucher before continuing with her shopping.
However, when he approached the cashier for the voucher, the cashier said the customer could not have it.
"I asked why ... the cashier said because she is Chinese; if she is Chinese, she has to spend £1,000 to get the VIP voucher," wrote the Weibo user in Chinese. His post has been shared tens of thousands of times, with Chinese netizens expressing their outrage.
The latest statement by World Duty Free is the second by the company since the discrimination row went viral.
However, there is a difference in the content of the English and the Chinese versions of the statements.
The English text did not mention Chinese travellers explicitly and simply referred to customers in general terms, while the Chinese version, immediately following the English one, did mention "the Chinese public".
The company did not respond to requests for an explanation of whether it did indeed discriminate against Chinese travellers.
"The VIP programme is designed to reward customers - on top of our normal promotions - at certain points of the year by offering an attractive incentive on a second purchase," the statement read.
"After close self-examination and having made further investigations, we have taken urgent steps to correct the implementation of this promotion going forward."
A Heathrow Airport spokesperson, quoted by British media, said that the offer was "unacceptable".
"We have been made aware of this offer which we find unacceptable," the spokesperson said. "We are currently working with our commercial partner to understand how this happened and ensure it does not happen again."