Louis Vuitton, official brand of affluent Chinese outbound tourists

Louis Vuitton is making a pitch to consumers in a spot no Western brand has ventured before: the National Museum of China.

The French luxury giant, celebrating its 20th year in China, is unveiling special summer exhibit titled “Voyages,” which features the brand’s historical luggage and handbags, in one of the country’s most renowned museums. Having just opened its doors after an epic-long three-year renovation, the museum is one of the most highly-sought spots for the country’s tourists.

That makes it a perfect place for Louis Vuitton, which is playing off the current travel craze hitting China.

China’s consumers are set to catapult the country’s tourism market past Japan’s by 2020, according to Boston Consulting Group. Last year, China’s outbound tourism market alone was worth 1.5 trillion yuan of revenues, filling the pockets of airline and hotel industries. According to a  March 2011 confidential survey made by the prestigious Shanghai Travelers’ Club, the average wealthy Chinese outbound traveler (with an annual income > US$350,000) is the happy owner of an average of nine Louis Vuitton items for a total value of US$32,000…

The upscale brand, owned by luxury house LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton, is eager to tap into the travel boom. China, where the taste for luxury goods has driven sales for countless high-end labels, is one of Louis Vuitton’s key growth markets. Travelers, who likely have higher disposable incomes than the average stationary low-income worker, are the brand’s target audience.

LV’s museum partnership also fits into China’s recent art rage. According to a report commissioned by the European Fine Art Foundation, China is now the world’s second-largest market for art and antiques. The global art market was estimated at around $60 billion in 2010, of which China accounted for 23%.

Other luxury brands are trying out the artistic pitch in China too. Christian Dior launched a multimedia photo exhibit in Shanghai in mid-May, showing off its Lady Dior line of handbags. Earlier this year, U.S. designer Diane von Furstenberg rolled out her “Journey of a Dress” exhibit in Beijing’s 798 art district.

Many question whether luxury brands have the credibility to position themselves as art. Louis Vuitton took a little heat, when it opened an art gallery in its Champs Elysees flagship store, showing off an exhibit of nude black and white women spelling out and “L” and a “V” with their bodies.

The French company also hit a rocky patch in China earlier in May, when Shanghai’s city government required the company to demolish one of its advertisements—a 65-foot-tall suitcase—that violated the city’s outdoor ad regulations.

Louis Vuitton hopes this new suitcase endeavor will result in a little less baggage.

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