Just arrived in the UK: 120,000 wealthy Chinese tourists

As schoolchildren across the UK settle into classroom teaching for the first time since spring, and undergraduates ready themselves for a return to campus, there’s a large group of prospective tourists flying into the UK to start at or return to their universities at the end of September. Chinese students in higher education outside China are rich and influential and they’re looking for places to visit – and there’s over 100,000 of them in the UK.

So let’s look a closer look at Chinese students in higher education in the UK; who are they, and why should you be promoting your product to them?

How many Chinese students are there in the UK?

In 2018-9 a record number of Chinese students studied in the UK, with the Higher Education Statistics Agency recording that the number of Chinese students rose above 120,000 for the first time. And there’s been a steady and significant increase in their numbers over recent years; in the 5 years to 2018-9 the number of Chinese students in the UK increased by 34%.

But will Chinese students come to the UK for their studies during the time of Covid-19?

Any worries that Chinese students may not return to the UK for the start of the 2020-1 academic year seem unfounded. While the US is suffering from its current political tensions with China as well as a negative perception of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK continues to be regarded favourably, not least thanks to its handling of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) challenge earlier this year. The cancellation of the IELTS tests put in doubt access by Chinese students to under- and post-graduate study in English-speaking countries including the UK, USA and Australia. But UK universities reacted quickly and showed great flexibility in recognising the results of other English language tests in order to maintain the access of Chinese students to higher education here.

The British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, released a survey in June showing that only 3 percent of students currently enrolled at UK universities had cancelled their study plans. And major universities are telling us that the level of cancellations at this stage is no higher than would be seen in a ‘normal’ year.

Plus, UK universities are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that hygiene and safety measures are in place on campus, and that travel to the UK is seen to be safe. Queen’s University Belfast, which has around 1,200 Chinese students, has even been planning a to charter a jet to fly its new and returning students to Northern Ireland from China.

Why promote your tourism product to Chinese students in the UK?

So there are over 120,00 Chinese studying in the UK (2018-9 figures), but why should you promote your tourism product to them?

Chinese students have lots of money to spend

Wealthy Chinese students studying abroad have annual allowances in the tens of thousands of pounds, making them a massive target for brands. Stories of Chinese students chartering private ‘planes to travel to and from university abound, and some calculations put Chinese students’ average disposable income at around £28,000.

At a time when high-end retail is suffering, Chinese students continue to provide a rich source of shoppers for luxury outlets and gift shops at visitor attractions.

And they’re not just in London

Three out of the top ten universities by share of Chinese students are in the North, with the University of Liverpool alone hosting nearly 5,000 Chinese students in total. Nearby the University of Manchester hosts a similar number while the University of Sheffield welcomes around 3,700. Meanwhile Cardiff University is home to 3,500 Chinese students. With a national spread, all but the most remote of tourism providers can benefit in investing in activities to attract this cohort.

Chinese students like to travel 

China Travel Outbound’s research with Wonderful Copenhagen carried out in early 2020 found that more than a third of surveyed Chinese students in the UK had already been on a city break while studying here. And 25% planned to take another international city break during their time here. In fact, the average number of overseas city breaks already taken was three, with an average length of stay of 6.2 nights. 

And they will actively be looking for places to visit over Christmas and Easter

Limited flight capacity between the UK and China, and the possible requirement of quarantine on return to their home country, will encourage Chinese students to remain in Europe over the university holidays. So they’ll actively be looking for places to visit.

Chinese students are great advocates for your product

Studies show that Chinese students overseas continue to use Chinese social media such as Weibo, WeChat and Little Red Book rather than migrating to Instagram and Twitter. Our research with Wonderful Copenhagen found that fewer than 1 in 5 students used Instagram and fewer than 1 in 20 used Facebook. And the nature of the Chinese digital landscape and online connectedness of Chinese students and Gen Z means that those visiting are great advocates for your product, with influence far beyond these shores to their fellow netizens at home.

Chinese students can help you maintain a presence in Chinese digital channels when Chinese outbound tourists, including China’s Key Opinion Leaders, are in short supply, and help influence destination choice when outbound travel from China fully starts up again.

Chinese students often stay in the UK after graduating

Since the UK brought back the two-year post-study work visa in 2019, graduating overseas students have been allowed to stay in the UK for to work, or look for work, in any career or position of their choice for two years after completing their studies. With the chance to work overseas a big draw in studying in the UK, your chances of repeat visits, especially with visiting friends and family, make Chinese students an even more profitable prospect.

And the UK is now the number one choice for Chinese students who would like to study overseas

A July ’20 study by New Oriental Education, one of China’s largest educational firms, found that 47% of Chinese students would choose the UK to study abroad, with 37% choosing the US. This is the first time that the UK has overtaken the US as the top destination for Chinese students in this survey.

With China the single largest country of origin for international students worldwide, with over 600,00 Chinese studying overseas in 2018, the prospects for UK tourism to benefit from the patronage of Chinese students has never been brighter.

Contact us now for a no obligation chat about how we can help you attract Chinese students to your destination, visitor attraction or retail outlet today.

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