Chinese New Year marks a time for celebration. And also, the time for travelling. To celebrate the holiday, the people of China are given a week off for the Chinese Lunar New Year Golden Week. This year, it runs from 27 January to 2 February. In the UK, our clients are preparing themselves for an influx of very welcome Chinese visitors all important to fill beds at this off-peak time of year. But how big can we expect Chinese New Year to be this year?
To get an idea, we’ve looked at Chinese visitor numbers of previous years, the changing travel and economic landscape of the UK in recent times, and forecasts for 2017. But let’s start with past years.
2015 was a big year for Chinese visitors to the UK; According to VisitBritain, 270,000 people were welcomed, up by 46% from 2014. Collectively, they spent £586 million that year here in the UK, claiming a spot in the UK’s top 10 inbound markets for spending. It’s no surprise then that, according to travel intelligence company ForwardKeys, the UK ranked 4th place in the list of European destinations for Chinese travellers.
Fast forward to 2016 and Chinese visitors to the UK during Chinese New Year were up again. Not all that surprising since the estimated total number of 2016 Chinese New Year journeys reached a whopping 2.91 billion. Yet 2016 was also characterised by widespread fear of terrorism for much of Europe, resulting in a Europe-wide fall of 7.4% in visitor numbers. Perhaps fuelled by safety concerns around France and Germany, London was up by 7.8% and Manchester by 27%.
Britain’s Travel and Economic Landscape
Why do we think 2017 could be the UK’s biggest ever Chinese New Year? First, if you cut back to this time last year, Brexit seemed highly unlikely. From January to June 2016, the British Pound to Chinese Yuan averaged between 9.3 and 9.4. Now? The Pound to Yuan average is around 8.5. The combination of a weak pound and a large Chinese luxury market surely means that UK shopping has never been more desirable. At least Beiwei 55, a tour operator specialising in the Chinese market to the UK, thinks so. It says the UK is becoming an increasingly affordable destination for Chinese visitors which may be why last year’s summer season saw a 40% increase in Chinese tourist numbers. Cheaper luxury products and the time to buy them are a winning combination, making Golden Week the perfect time for the Chinese to visit the UK.
Not only that but access to Britain has never been easier. Over the past year, the number of direct flights between the two countries has increased. Summer 2017 will see Hainan Airlines service new direct routes to London from Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi’an, Qingdao and Changsha. This is in addition to their previously launched direct flight from Beijing to Manchester. Ease of travel combined with a cheap holiday destination should encourage Chinese tourists to travel to the UK and send those visitor numbers soaring. Hopefully 2017 will reflect this and be the biggest year for Chinese New Year in the UK yet.
Chinese New Year 2017
Recent studies are showing signs of this already. EChinanews forecasts that the number of total journeys (including domestic) predicted to be made for 2017’s Chinese New Year is 3 billion, a 0.9 billion rise from 2016.
ForwardKeys study also shows positive UK inbound statistics for Chinese New Year 2017. Compared to the same time last year, bookings to Europe are ahead by 68.5% with the UK actually up by 88%. A phenomenal figure! The UK now ranks in 2nd place for Chinese visitors to Europe; a nice 2-place climb from 2015. This week, VisitBritain announced that the number of Chinese visitors in January is up a whopping 80% compared to last January, with bookings focused around the Chinese New Year at the end of the month. As Jo Leslie, VisitBritain, was quoted in the Evening Standard this week, ‘Chinese tourists in London spend twice as long as they do in mainland Europe, spend twice as much money and the numbers are growing at twice the rate.’ London is putting on a huge spectacle with parades, markets and entertainment to celebrate Chinese culture, maintaining its position as one of the most exciting places to celebrate Chinese New Year outside Asia.
With so much going on, in the economy, the market and the fantastic celebrations in London and beyond, Britain can be very optimistic that the Chinese New Year and, indeed, the rest of the Year of the Rooster, will be the biggest yet for Chinese visitors.
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