China becomes one of the UK’s top 10 most valuable inbound tourism markets

2015 saw China move into the UK’s top 10 most valuable inbound tourism markets, propelled by an increase of visits vs. 2014 of +47% and an increase of spend of +18%.  This huge increase reflects an underlying growth trend over the last decade: the number of Chinese tourists coming to the UK has more than doubled since 2006 while total spend has multiplied by more than 5 times.

Long known to be the highest-spending global travellers, Chinese tourists’ total spend in the UK last year was £586m.  This is +18% y-on-y and the Chinese account for nearly ¼ of all tourist spend in the UK.  VisitBritain’s stats show that every 22 additional Chinese visitors to the UK support an additional job in tourism.

And Chinese holidaymakers to the UK are not just travelling to London. While 45% of these visits were to the capital, 38% of Chinese tourists went to the rest of England.  Popular activities of Chinese tourists in the UK include visiting a museum, visiting parks and gardens and shopping.

The largest outbound travel market in the world

China is now the largest outbound travel market in the world with over 120m Chinese travelling overseas annually, and this number is forecast to reach 220m by 2020.  And other countries are welcoming a significant chunk of this outbound growth too.  China now makes up the 2nd largest source of inbound tourists to Australia, and 1 in 4 tourists visiting Thailand is Chinese.  In Europe, the Tyrol has long targeted Chinese visitors and Bordeaux is offering its website, brochures and a presentation DVD of the city in Mandarin to attract its share of China’s growing outbound wine tourism.

There are opportunities for every kind of destination and attraction in this market and independent travel is the fastest growing segment.  It’s not just about group travel to London for the top tourist sites and luxury shopping any longer.  Clean air, natural beauty and the countryside are proving strong draws for today’s Chinese tourist, and they’re just as likely to enjoy sampling a traditional cream tea in a country house hotel as touring London’s traditional sights behind a flag-carrying tour guide.

How the UK is attracting Chinese tourists

Factors driving the success of the UK in attracting Chinese tourists include strong marketing campaigns by VisitBritain.  2015’s GREAT names for GREAT Britain campaign asked Chinese people to give Chinese names to over 101 attractions and places in the UK.  A launch video appeared outdoors, in cinemas and taxis and a 10-week Weibo and WeChat campaign invited naming suggestions.  27 million Chinese watched the launch video and the social media posts were viewed over 300m times on Weibo alone.  Quirky results and much media coverage ensued.  The Highland Games are now known to the Chinese as ‘special skirt party’ and the Cerne Abbas Giant is ‘big white streaker’. Benedict Cumberbatch will no doubt be delighted to be greeted as ‘Curly Fu’ on his next visit to Beijing!

VisitBritain’s continuing focus on China as a growing inbound market promises to attract rising numbers of Chinese travellers to the UK over the next few years.  Contact us now for a no-obligation chat about how you can secure your share of these valuable inbound holidaymakers.

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Gatwick-Chongqing-Tianjin flights take off today

The UK’s first ever direct flights to Chongqing and Tianjin launch today with the departure of Tianjin Airlines’ Airbus A330 from Gatwick. Hainan Airlines subsidiary Tianjin Airlines will fly Gatwick-Chongqing-Tianjin twice weekly.

The new route will strengthen and develop links between the destinations, and also makes it easier for Chinese visitors from these 2 cities to visit London, southeast England and further afield.  Chongqing in southwest China is one of the world’s largest urban areas with a population of over 30 million while Tianjin in the northeast is China’s 4th largest city.

China recently moved into the top 10 source market for overseas tourists to the UK.  2015 visits to the UK were +46% to 270,000 year/year and spend +18%.  Around 120 million Chinese people travelled overseas in 2015 and Goldman Sachs forecasts that number will increase to 220 million by 2025.


Julie Withers joins China Travel Outbound

Julie WithersWe are delighted to announce the appointment of Julie Withers as Account Manager at China Travel Outbound. Julie has extensive marketing, communications and account management experience gained at organisations ranging from the NSPCC to Country Living Magazine. Julie’s skills include strategy, new business development, content marketing and event management.

Julie has joined us to help support our growing client base and to undertake new business development. She’s very excited to be working with the growing outbound China travel market and is already proving to be a valuable member of the team. Get in touch with Julie to talk about opportunities in China for your business.

Caravanning – a surprising segment of Chinese tourism

It seems there is no corner of the travel sector left untouched by the growing Chinese market.  It might not be the first thing which comes to mind when thinking about Chinese tourists, but caravanning is on the rise in China. This growing trend will be reinforced by Beijing’s All in Caravanning Exhibition 2016, taking place from 18 to 20 June.  The exhibition is in its 5th year and over 300 exhibitors will attend.

Caravans bring freedom and luxury to busy Chinese

The Chinese perceive caravans as offering luxury, freedom and the opportunity to get away from crowds in cities and busy tourist sites.  Short breaks in static caravans are currently most popular, especially near Beijing and in the north where roads are most suitable.  Here caravans offer an alternative to hotel accommodation and an escape to the natural environment with clean air, green scenery and outdoor living.

But the trend towards purchasing and travelling with a caravan is growing too, and overseas caravan manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand as many vehicles go straight from seaports to buyers.  Caravans, motorhomes, teardrop trailers and awnings are in plentiful supply on Alibaba.  More than 3,000 caravan parks are under construction in mainland China and many more are in the pipeline.

The on-the-road Chinese caravanning pioneers, known as red ants, are usually senior business people and managers who have spare time and cash.  And at the extreme end there’s even a globetrotting caravanning couple who are 57 countries into a worldwide tour.

And caravanning is an outbound travel trend too

And it’s not just an in-China development.  One Australian caravan park is reporting record Chinese arrivals, and China is now their largest overseas market.  There’s been a rush to translate caravan park websites into Mandarin, and many parks have added Chinese language signage and information on site.  Managers are learning basic Mandarin phrases and using information sheets in Mandarin to better communicate with Chinese guests while campervan rental company Britz Maui has produced a DVD in Chinese to explain the rules of the road.

This is a trend which spans generations: families, older couples and groups of friends are all trying out the delights of static caravan holidays and beginning to move into touring caravans. Last year the International Federation of Camping and Caravanning held its inaugural event in Yangqing County in the shadow of the Great Wall.  Whilst still far from mainstream, this surprising strand of Chinese luxury travel is definitely on the increase.


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Is your product attractive to the Chinese?

In the 4th of our blogs about the challenges facing UK brands thinking about the Chinese market, I talk about clients’ concerns that they are not ready for the Chinese; that their product isn’t quite right or that their destination, attraction or hotel just isn’t appealing to Chinese tourists.

Are you worried that your product isn’t attractive to the Chinese?  I meet many travel industry professionals who worry about this, yet much of this concern stems from a misunderstanding of the Chinese market and how it’s changing.  Most significantly, it’s no longer just about group travel.

The 1st wave of Chinese outbound tourism saw an outflow of Chinese unused to overseas travel and often on their 1st trip abroad.  These tourists were typically interested only in world-famous sites and they travelled on group tours by coach, following a packed multi-country itinerary while staying in value hotels on the outskirts of cities.  Mainstream destinations, big name attractions and large, midmarket hotels all cater well for this market – and it’s still huge.  But it’s not the only source of outbound Chinese travellers.

The rise of the independent Chinese traveller

In fact, the fastest growing segment of outbound Chinese tourism is independent travel.  This opens up a wealth of opportunities for all kinds of less mainstream destinations and products as independent Chinese holidaymakers seek out one-off travel experiences and interesting locations.  Chinese millennials, in particular, have probably already visited London, seen some of the ‘big ticket’ sights and are now keen to move beyond the capital and the well-trodden tourist path.  They are increasingly self-reliant, degree-educated, have reasonably high proficiency in English – and they’re travelling frequently.  They’re not so very different, in fact, from European and North American outbound travellers their age.

The appeal of natural, cultural and historical attractions to independent Chinese travellers

In addition to the traditional appeal of Royal palaces, iconic landmarks and luxury shopping, the Chinese are becoming more interested in natural beauty and the countryside.  Clean air, in particular, is a great draw as a refreshing change from the air pollution of big cities such as Beijing.  Switzerland has been quick to snare its share of this growing interest, receiving the 3rd largest volume of inbound Chinese visitors to Europe after France and Italy.  47% of Chinese independent travellers (FITs) cite the appeal of natural, cultural and historical attractions in choosing holidays overseas.  This is the perfect time for heritage sites, historic houses and countryside Destination Management Organisations to position themselves for a slice of the growing Chinese market.

Outbound Chinese tourists are increasingly focused on unique experiences too, not only for their authenticity but also for their ‘bragging’ value on social media. There’s even a small adventure travel market and steady growth in polar tourism.  But you don’t have to offer polar bears and ice floes for a social media-worthy experience for the Chinese.  Quality 4* hotels are in demand from the growing tailormade travel segment for which the charming décor will be very photo-worthy.  Country house hotels are prized for the quintessentially British experience which they offer; an afternoon tea in a sumptuous lounge or a walk in scenic sheep-strewn countryside is just the kind of experience attractive to the new Chinese tourists to enjoy and share on Weibo and WeChat.

Great opportunities for small fry

Quintessentially British experiences, in fact, are in increasing demand generally and you don’t have to be a big brand name to garner a following in China.  Social media is HUGE and if you can get your product on the map with an influential blogger or Key Opinion Leader, the results could include significant additional revenue.  The Regency Restaurant in Brighton welcomes thousands of Chinese every year thanks to a celebrity social media posting.  We took rock band Miserable Faith to the Hard Rock Cafe in London and their enthusiastic postings about the experience reached 369,000 followers on Weibo alone.

China Ready Training

So there’s almost certainly a Chinese market for your product.  But you’re still worried that you’re not ready to cater for Chinese visitors.  Well that’s where China Ready Training comes in.  China Travel Outbound works with training partners who will help your operations and customer service staff to understand Chinese travellers’ expectations and needs and provide insight into small product changes which will make a big difference to the Chinese visitor experience.  Even small, fairly low budget changes can be hugely beneficial.

And you don’t have to spend big bucks to test the Chinese market either.  You can test your product proposition with our established contacts on a sales mission.  This will allow you to better understand your product’s appeal to the Chinese and its likely market before committing to ongoing representation and PR in China.

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How we brought Chinese Rock Stars, Miserable Faith, to London’s Hard Rock Cafe

This month, Chinese rock group, Miserable Faith visited the UK on a tour sponsored by Canon and China’s most important travel social media and review site, Mafengwo. When we heard they were coming to London, we knew we just had to invite them to lunch at the original Hard Rock Cafe. So we did.

The band and its entourage enjoyed a great meal at the Hard Rock Cafe and were given a VIP tour of The Vault to see the fantastic Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia and have their pictures taken. They were also presented with classic T-shirts bearing their individual names – a treasure to take home with them.

Miserable Faith is one of the most popular rock bands in China. The band formed in 1999 and have released six albums and regularly headline at China’s outdoor music festivals. Mafengwo has influenced the travel decision making of 2.98 million followers and, after Miserable Faith’s visit to the Hard Rock Cafe, they posted about the visit on Weibo. Miserable Faith re-posted immediately on their Weibo account to their own 369,000 followers and added their own content and comments.

Weibo post MF

A celebrity-endorsed post like this on Weibo can cost upwards of £10,000 in China. Due to our connections and relationships in Beijing, we were able to deliver this for our client, Hard Rock Cafe, without charge.

The influence of the Chinese media and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) can not be overestimated and reaching out to them on behalf of our clients is one of our top priorities. Next month, we are hosting a journalist from the upmarket Chinese magazine, Travel + at the Hard Rock Cafe in New Orleans and we’ve invited an influential Chinese travel blogger for lunch in Phoenix City.

First direct flight from Manchester to mainland China takes off

The first direct flights from the North to China launched today with the departure of Hainan Airlines’ inaugural Manchester to Beijing flight. Manchester becomes the only British airport outside London to have scheduled non-stop flights to China. The economic benefit to the UK is expected to be at least £250m, with 2/3 of this going directly to the Northern economy in the form of increased jobs, economic activity and tourism.

Building on North – China links

The flights will provide a more convenient route for the 100,000 people already travelling between the North of England and Beijing every year.  Annual journey time savings of £5m are expected to be made by eliminating the inconvenience of changing ‘planes.

Growing tourism opportunities for the North

The connections will boost Northern-Chinese business links as well as growing tourism opportunities.  China became the world’s largest source of overseas tourism in 2012 and has experienced double digit growth every year since then. With over 120 million Chinese travelling overseas last year and Chinese tourists acclaimed as the world’s biggest spenders while on holiday, the benefits to the regional tourism economy are potentially huge, especially in attracting the growing group of independent Chinese travellers.

Northern Powerhouse

Announced by Chinese President Xi Jingping during his State visit to the UK in October last year, the flights support the UK’s Northern Powerhouse.  Other planned transport and infrastructure projects due to boost the Northern Powerhouse’s connections include the Leeds-Manchester high-speed rail link and the upgrade of the M62 to 4 lanes between Leeds and Manchester.

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Could China’s love of wine be a new source of outbound tourism?

In a peculiar turn of fate, China is now the world’s biggest market for red wine, surpassing France and Italy. Wine drinking is a relatively new habit in China but the nation is already the world’s 5th largest consumer of wine overall, and Alibaba expects 100 million consumers to take part in its 1st ‘Wine Day’ later this year. The global wine industry is seduced by the size of the opportunity as China’s population of around 1.4 billion grows richer and seeks to spend money on imported goods. And could this growing consumption of wine be a new source of outbound Chinese tourism too?

Wine is becoming more affordable in China

Imported wine started as a luxury purchase in China. In 1996 Chinese Premier Li Peng toasted the 5th 9 Year Plan with red wine, and soon the elite were using bottles of prestigious French reds to win favour and smooth relationships. Record-breaking sales prices have been set in Hong Kong where a 66-bottle vintage collection sold online for £251,365 last year.

Hong Kong is a popular destination for wine-loving Chinese, in part because it has no tax on wine, in contrast to the steep alcohol taxes on the mainland. But even on the mainland wine is slowly becoming more affordable as more lower-priced labels enter the market. These come especially from free trade partners Chile and Australia, with volume imports from the latter up 51% in the first 3 months of 2016.

And wine-loving Chinese are no longer just interested in consumption. In May two Chinese Baiju (white spirit) producers bought South Australia’s Belvidere Winery, just the latest of a number of Chinese purchases of wineries and vineyards including at least 60 chateaux in Bordeaux in the last 5 years.

China is also the country with the 2nd biggest vineyard surface area in the world, behind Spain and (quelle horreur) ahead of France.

The growth of oenology in China

Enthusiasm for wine in China extends not just to its status-enhancing qualities but also to a genuine interest in oenology. WeChat’s Wine in University account has over 7,000 members. And it’s in this more sophisticated enjoyment of wine that the beginnings of wine tourism lie.

Chinese domestic wine tourism started to take off a few years ago. Large domestic wineries such as Changyu Pioneer Wine Co introduced tailored wine packages to cater for varying levels of customer knowledge. The addition of other entertainment such as mahjong and football seek to widen the wineries’ appeal to families and offer a rounded day trip destination.

The beginnings of Chinese outbound wine tourism

This interest in wine is slowly spilling into outbound tourism. Michelin published its first French Wine Tour guidebook in Mandarin in 2011 and 1/3 of the students in France’s Bordeaux Wine Institute are Chinese. In fact Bordeaux, sometimes known as the world’s wine capital, has been at the forefront of attracting Chinese tourists in recent years. Its website, brochures and a presentation DVD of the city are available in Mandarin.  Chinese-speaking assistants are available to guide tour groups. Luxury hotels in the region are adapting too; the 5 star Grand Hotel de Bordeaux and Spa has developed special VIP tours of Chinese tours which couple tastings of premier vintages with a gourmet lunch.

The Chinese have recently become the 2nd largest group of overseas visitors to Australian vineyards and make up 10% of all such visits.  Only the British, it seems, are more interested in the authentic Australian wine experience. Jacobs Creek Visitor Centre trains its staff in Chinese cultural norms and has introduced Mandarin signage while Red Dolls Wine in McLaren Vale bills itself as the first bilingual winery for the Chinese wine enthusiast.

And what’s particular notable is that Chinese visitors need a different kind of wine experience to score high satisfaction levels.  The natural setting and clean, fresh air around a winery can be just as attractive to the Chinese as the wine tasting itself.  And when it comes to wine tasting – well, Chinese visitors don’t just want to taste wine; they want to observe work in the vineyards and gain insight into the production process.  High-end visitors may like a tailored private tour and pretty much every-one will want to buy (expensive) red wine as a gift.  Red wine offers the best pairing with Chinese food and red is an auspicious colour in China.  Is the future auspicious for Chinese outbound wine tourism too?


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