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Rich really is glorious
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A Spyker's race car, priced 5 million yuan ($690,000), is on show at the Shanghai International Expo Center in November. Gao Erqiang


On a recent Saturday night in Beijing, Italian entrepreneur Giorgio Dell'Artino played host to about 20 invited guests, who were either members of China's premium clubs or owners of Ferrari sports cars.


Dell'Artino brought with him his long trusted chef, an acclaimed specialist in Italian cuisine, and also a fine selection of Italian wine. With servings of the most refined food and wine, Dell'Artino attempted to give his Chinese guests a taste of what his company, Dream Italy, had to offer: a luxurious experience of Italy.


Founded in 1997, Dream Italy has been offering luxury travel services for the world's multi-millionaires.


Over the past 10 years, like most of its rivals, the Italian travel operator has focused on markets in the United States and Europe. However, in recent years, the emerging class of super rich in China, coupled with their increasing interest in leisure luxury, has made China an irresistible market for international luxury travel operators.


Deluxe yacht cruises, private jet tours, hot air balloons rides, lavish resort stays, Ferrari tour and visits to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are among the 41 tour packages the Italian travel operator has specifically designed for rich Chinese.


The price tag includes 2,900 euros ($4,247) for a one-day tour in a Ferrari sports car, or 55,000 euros ($80,548) for a nine-day tour including hot air ballooning.


The prices are sky high but there are customers willing to pay.


According to a Merrill Lynch-CapGemini report last year, China had 345,000 people with financial assets of at least $1 million in 2006, which was up 7.8 percent from 2005.


Among them are 4,935 so-called "super rich", each of whose total assets exceeded $30 million.


The number of billionaires in 2007 is 106, compared to 15 in 2006 and none in 2002, according to the Hurun Rich List compiled by British chartered accountant Rupert Hoogewerf, who used to work for Forbes and is known in China as Hu Run.


This means that China has a larger group of billionaires than any country in the world except the United States, which has over 410 billionaires, and nearly twice as many as the previous second placeholder, Germany, with about 55.


These multi-millionaires and billionaires were mostly produced over the past three decades, thanks to China's reform and opening-up, which created investment and business opportunities in a society that had long been under a planned economic system.


New-found wealth accentuated by the sudden release of a repressed consumption desire has resulted in a boom in the luxury industry over the past decade.


"For those who make their million, buying a luxury car and watch are the first symbols of success," Hoogewerf says.


Gradually, as they travel abroad on business, they learn more about luxury travel and the tastes of their overseas counterparts. Their desire to have or own is overshadowed by exploring new ways of life, Hoogewerf says.


More people are showing an interest in luxury items, such as helicopters, small aircrafts and yachts.


It is reported that Zhang Yue, founder of Broad Air Conditioning Co, boasts a Bell 427 helicopter, two Cessna jets and three smaller Cessnas.


According to research carried by Hurun Report, a luxury business magazine led by Hoogewerf, travel is the most favored leisure activity of China's elite.


The survey was among 604 Chinese entrepreneurs with wealth of at least 10 million yuan ($1.35 million) on their lifestyle and spending habits. Around one third of those interviewed said that travel was their number one hobby.


"When it comes to the super rich, money is not a major concern," says Dell'Artino. "When they see something they want, they spend what it takes."


Dream Italy claims to be the first of its kind to enter the Chinese market. But Dell'Artino believes "in a short time, there will be many operators arriving from different countries".


As the first to test the water, Dell'Artino says there are both advantages and disadvantages. While it helps to establish Dream Italy as a brand before any other competitors come, the market has yet to be mature.


"The biggest challenge is to get in touch with our potential clients who tend to be more privacy conscious," Dell'Artino says. "It takes time to win their trust and build a core market."


Jacky Jin, CEO of the newly launched Robb Report Lifestyle, says he can't agree more.


With its target readers those with a minimum net wealth of 50 million yuan (US$6.75 million), Robb Report Lifestyle and Dream Italy are in fact aimed at the same group of clients, who, in Jin's words, "are leading a life that is invisible to most of us."


Robb Report has been the leading luxury lifestyle magazine in the United States for the past three decades.


In the latest sign of China's rising upper crust and its growing appeal to international marketers, the Chinese-language edition of the magazine was launched last October.


The 200-plus-page monthly publication is packed with news and advertising that promotes elite brands such as Volkswagen AG's Bugatti sports cars, Lurssen yachts and the latest Armani collection.


Yet Jin has tried to shun the word "luxury," which in his opinion has acquired a negative connation here in China over the past few years, especially when it is associated with super rich. He explained, for many, the combination of the two words brings to mind the image of an upstart splashing out cash to flaunt his wealth.


With the nation just recovering from general poverty, Chinese consumers, the super rich being no exception, have little sense of luxury culture, Jin says. "They might afford luxury, but don't necessarily really enjoy it. Luxury is an art one needs to learn to enjoy."


Robb Report Lifestyle, Jin says, can help "cultivate a noble culture" among China's nouveau riche. By "a noble culture", Jin means "a refined and responsible lifestyle."


Acknowledging that such "refinement" may take time, Dream Italy's Dell'Artino says it will be worth the wait. "In three years, we hope to achieve an annual average of 80 to 120 clients here in China," he says.



Left and right: The emerging class of super rich has made China an irresistible market for international luxury travel operators, including deluxe yacht cruises, private jet tours, hot air balloons rides and lavish resort stays. File photos


(China Daily January 22, 2008)

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