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Big in China and tiny in the U.S., Fast Retailing seen weathering pandemic

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TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic is shredding the global apparel industry, stripping hundreds of billions of dollars from sales and thrusting big names like J.Crew into bankruptcy protection.

While no major fashion firms have been spared, Japan’s Fast Retailing (9983.T), owner of the Uniqlo brand and not far behind the world’s No. 2 H&M (HMb.ST) in sales, looks well placed to cope with the crisis better than rivals.

That’s thanks to legions of faithful Chinese fans like 25-year-old IT worker Niu Ran, whose wardrobe is crammed with Uniqlo basics like shirts and socks and was looking for more in a post-lockdown shopping trip.

“I like Uniqlo because it’s very easy to match and the quality is not bad,” he said, waiting in line to try on pants at a Uniqlo store in Wangfujing, Beijing’s prime shopping district.

“It satisfies all my needs, so I don’t need to spend time elsewhere.”

Led by Tadashi Yanai, Japan’s richest man, Fast Retailing has expanded aggressively in China with 750 Uniqlo stores, roughly the same number in its home market.

Mainland China has all but contained domestic transmission of the coronavirus with lockdowns lifted in most areas since March and the world’s no. 2 economy is widely expected to emerge from pandemic-induced pain faster than other countries.

In other parts of Asia too, key markets such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have been more successful than the West in curbing the virus.

In contrast, rivals mostly focused on the U.S. market like Gap Inc (GPS.N) or far more dependent on Europe like Zara-owner and industry leader Inditex (ITX.MC) and H&M, are expected to face a longer downturn.

“Asia is going to be much faster to bounce back in terms of willingness to spend, which will favour operators with a big presence in Asia,” said Honor Strachan, retail analyst at research firm GlobalData.

“In the mature western markets across Europe, the U.S. and Canada, we expect the recovery to be long and drawn out,” she said.

GlobalData predicts the global apparel market will lose $297 billion in revenue this year due to the pandemic, with the United States accounting for 42% of that lost spending.

Of Uniqlo’s 2,260 stores globally, just 51 are in the United States. Its inability to make strides in the world’s biggest clothing market has long been seen as an Achilles heel, but for the time being it may prove a blessing.

Asia, however, accounts for three-quarters of Uniqlo’s annual revenue and Greater China alone represents 20%.

While Strachan notes H&M and Inditex are some of the most resilient players in the market, Asia & Oceania make up just 15% of H&M’s annual revenue while at Zara, its “Asia and the rest of the world” category accounts for 23% of sales.

The basics advantage

Uniqlo’s long shelf-life items like Oxford shirts for work, chinos and underwear as well as its reputation for value for money are likely to resonate with consumers grappling with lost income or less job security more than the trend-based clothing of Zara and H&M, according to analysts.

“The quality is good and designs are classic,” said Jiang Xin, an internet company employee in Beijing, one of many Chinese shoppers interviewed by Reuters who said they felt Uniqlo quality was a cut above comparably priced brands.

Although Fast Retailing warned in April operating profit could slide 44% in the year to end-August, analysts expect a quick recovery assuming key markets are not hit by a large second wave of infections. With a large proportion of items no-frills basics, it is hoping to limit discounts.

“We will be looking to gradually sell off the excess stock to normalise inventory over the next 18 months,” CFO Takeshi Okazaki said on a call with analysts in April.

Fast Retailing declined to comment further on its business outlook for this article.

Rapid growth has brought Fast Retailing almost neck and neck with H&M. Last year the Japanese firm was more profitable with net income of around $1.5 billion compared to the Swedish chain’s $1.4 billion, though its $21 billion in revenue was some $3 billion less.

And while it still has a way to go before it matches Inditex’s annual sales of $31 billion, Yanai’s long-held goal of making Fast Retailing the world’s biggest retailer has looked less far-fetched in recent years.

But for that to happen, Uniqlo will have gain market share in the United States, analysts say, adding that it may have to offer more stylish items to get there.

“They still need to find a way to compete in the U.S.,” said Jefferies analyst Michael Allen. “The current crisis doesn’t change the equation for that.”

Reporting and photo: Reuters

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Maldives celebrates arrival of 2024’s 1 millionth tourist

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Maldives on Thursday welcomed the one millionth tourist to visit this year.

The one millionth tourist is a Thai named Sutapa Amonwivat, who arrived from Singapore with her husband and two children. This is her second visit to Maldives.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) and the Ministry of Tourism gave a warm welcome to Sutapa at the Velana International Airport (VIA) Thursday afternoon. She was welcomed at the VIA by tourism minister Ibrahim Faisal, MMPRC Managing Director Ibrahim Shiury and senior officials of various relevant agencies.

After welcoming her with traditional offerings, she was presented with various gifts by the ministry, MMPRC, customs, immigration, Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA).

Maldives reached one million tourists in June, three weeks earlier than last year. The number of tourists reached one million on July 16, 2023.

Maldives expects to reach 2 million tourists this year.

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New air route connects Chongqing to Maldives

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Chongqing Airlines on Monday began its inaugural flights to Maldives.

The Chongqing-Male route, scheduled three times a week, is expected to strengthen the bonds between China and the Maldives, opening up exciting new opportunities for tourism and cultural exchange.

The inaugural flight was welcomed upon its arrival at Velana International Airport (VIA) in Maldives, where local officials and tourism representatives expressed their enthusiasm for this new development.

“We warmly welcome our friends from China to our beautiful islands. This new connection strengthens our bonds and opens up new opportunities for tourism,” the tourism ministry said on X.

Maldives currently welcomes four airlines from China, including China Eastern, Beijing Capital Airlines, Xiamen Airlines.

In January, Maldives government urged tourism stakeholders in both Maldives and China to ramp up efforts to restore China’s position as the primary source market for Maldives tourism, a status held before the onset of Covid-19.

China, being the largest source market for Maldives tourism before the pandemic, saw a resumption of tourist arrivals from January 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In 2023, the Maldives welcomed 187,118 Chinese tourists, marking a significant recovery in numbers. This year, the Maldives has welcomed the most number of tourists from China, with over 107,940 or 11.5 percent of total arrivals by June 12. 

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CROSSROADS Maldives Introduces Weixin Pay at resorts for seamless guest experience

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CROSSROADS Maldives has introduced WeChat Pay, widely known as Weixin Pay in China, across its world-class resorts, SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, and Hard Rock Hotel Maldives. This payment option is made available to enhance the convenience and overall experience for guests from China, making their stay in the Maldives more enjoyable and hassle-free.

Understanding the needs of the diverse guests, CROSSROADS Maldives has integrated WeChat Pay into operations, allowing guests from China to easily and securely conduct transactions using a payment method familiar to them. The introduction of WeChat Pay is a testament to CROSSROADS Maldives’ dedication to enhancing guest satisfaction by offering exceptional experiences at every turn. What is also expected through this initiative is that the guests could benefit from better foreign exchange rates, translating to better savings on their expenditures during their stay.

The option is available for guests in-house conveniently at both resorts as well as across the Marina at CROSSROADS Maldives where a wider variety of unparalleled dining and retail experiences are available for all guests. The day visitors from China will also therefore equally benefit from this new introduction at the Maldives’ premier multi-island integrated leisure destination.

SAii Lagoon Maldives, Curio Collection by Hilton, is a vibrant tropical escape that offers unique and locally inspired experiences. The resort features spacious rooms and villas, a variety of dining options, and an array of recreational activities designed to cater to the desires of modern travellers. Guests can escape to the island’s SAiisational natural beauty, enjoy water sports, and indulge in spa treatments, all while relishing the personalised service that defines Hilton’s Curio Collection.

Hard Rock Hotel Maldives brings the iconic Hard Rock spirit to the tranquil shores of the Maldives. This family-friendly resort offers a perfect blend of relaxation and entertainment, featuring music-inspired experiences, live performances, and the brand’s signature amenities. With luxurious accommodations, diverse dining options, and a plethora of activities for all ages, Hard Rock Hotel Maldives ensures an unforgettable holiday experience for every guest.

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