The Chinese want to eat Chinese, right?

Dim sum, fish and chips or something entirely different – what would a Chinese traveller choose? That might sound like a silly question, but promoting a business efficiently to the rising Chinese outbound travel market requires consideration of Chinese tourists’ preferences and the barriers to sale. Many businesses have already caught on to this, with places like Bicester Village introducing Mandarin guides and signs to take away language barriers that may dishearten travellers. Hilton has introduced the Huanying Program to many of their hotels, which provides Chinese customers with a more personalised stay by including a larger range of traditionally Chinese breakfast options, adding jasmine tea to the guest rooms, and more.

While shopping evidently has a large appeal to Chinese tourists, food and quality meals are also important considerations. When it comes to hospitality, tea and coffee-making facilities rank the highest in importance of what they want in their hotel rooms. A Chinese traveller spends 59% of his/her budget (excluding accommodation) on food. Clearly, food is big business.  To help you market to this, we had a look at some food preferences amongst Chinese tourists.

So, which is it? Dim sum or fish and chips?

Actually, it’s oysters. At least that’s what the Chinese tour operators we hosted recently in Brighton seemed to favour when we took them to The Regency Restaurant. Besides plates and plates of oysters, other popular dishes included lobster, crab salad and mussels. Not only does this imply that seafood has great appeal for a nation with distant coastlines, it also shows a desire to indulge in foods beyond Chinese tradition.

Travellers want to experience the local cuisine for at least one of their daily meals.

Young Chinese tourists do indeed like to try the local cuisines of their chosen travel destination, just as our guests enjoyed seafood in Brighton. In fact, 34% of Chinese travellers prefer “independent hotels with local flavours,” again revealing a desire to try new food. In fact, “travellers want to experience the local cuisine for at least one of their daily meals.” What’s more, trying local cuisine has become proof of a traveller’s unique experiences abroad, as it is deemed “fashionable and desirable” for tourists to indulge in food that differs from that which they are accustomed to in China. Since President Xi Jinping shared a fish and chip supper with David Cameron at the British PM’s local pub, the popularity of this traditional seaside plate has grown exponentially with Chinese visitors to the UK.

Whilst there is a growing interest in trying new foods, there are a few rules which do still ring true for the majority. Hot drinks are more popular, especially in the winter. Our Chinese interns choose a cup of hot rather than cold water for the office drinks round, and hot breakfasts are always chosen by our team when they come to London from Beijing. Dairy products are not widely consumed; when serving tea or coffee, do not add the milk, but offer it on the side. Lamb is another favourite, and spicy flavours go down well, but these don’t have to be Chinese. Indian, Thai and Indonesian food are all popular.

While the desire to try local food is certainly prominent amongst younger Chinese travellers, the duration of a visitor’s stay, and their age, may change this. Those who stay abroad longer often miss the familiarity of Chinese food, and may resort back to it. Although tasting local foods is a praised experience, the comfort of home will often come beckoning. Similarly, travellers over the age of 35 will often prefer familiarity over new experiences, and are more likely to stick to traditional Chinese dishes.

Variety, variety, variety! (And a Mandarin menu might help too).

So what does all this mean? It means variety, and providing Chinese tourists with both local dishes and with a range of Asian-style foods for when they simply want a “taste of home.” If you cater more commonly to youth, then a selection of local dishes will do, but if you have older guests, then remember to include some recognisable dishes.

Another important, practical consideration is accessibility. Looking at a long menu written in English with a huge selection of different dishes (sometimes with ‘clever’ names), can be completely overwhelming. Having a Mandarin menu available is definitely favourable and it may be sensible to select a few dishes to present in Chinese as the ‘dishes most popular with our Chinese guests’. This allows the guest to choose something they know they will enjoy, whilst also saving any risk of losing ‘face’ by ordering a bizarre combination by mistake. It is also important to accept China Union Pay, because Chinese tourists “increasingly wish to use the same payment methods overseas as they do at home.” Essentially, both variety and accessibility are key watch words for marketing your hotel or restaurant to Chinese tourists.

To find out more about how you can appeal to Chinese tourists and their food preferences, contact us now for a no obligation chat. For more news and views on the Chinese tourism scene, please read our other articles or sign up to receive our newsletters.

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5 ways to attract more Chinese shoppers

Recent research showed that the Chinese make up one third of all global tax-free shopping spend, and the Chinese tourist’s average holiday spending budget is ¥16.702 (£1,900). These figures once again remind travel and tourism businesses that the Chinese constitute an extremely lucrative market for retail. And it’s also a market which is predicted to grow to 200 million by 2020.

In 2014 the total overseas spend by Chinese tourists was over ¥1 trillion (£100 billion). The key factors driving Chinese overseas purchases, which we looked at in Part 1 of this blog, are a history of fakes and poor quality goods, a limited range and much higher prices. This trend shows no signs of slowing. Here’s the 5 ways to make your how retail offering Chinese-friendly and attract this cash-splashing segment.

Make sure you’re big in Beijing (and Shanghai, and Chengdu, and Guangzhou …)

81% of all Chinese overseas tourists plan to shop in their destination and they’re researching their options before they travel, so it’s essential to promote your brand in China. There are various routes to attracting the interest of Chinese tourists before departure, and they’re best used in combination to maximise your impact. PR to key consumer and trade media is essential, and inviting bloggers to visit can garner good coverage too.

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and celebrities are very influential in China and an endorsement, or ideally a visit, can place your offering into the social media streams of millions of Chinese. And choosing the right KOL is essential. While The Plough at Cadsden in Buckinghamshire can hardly find space for its Chinese visitors thanks to President Li Xinping and David Cameron’s beer and fish & chips pitstop last year, most brands are going to have to work a lot harder to raise their profile in China. The rise of internet celebrities such as Ling Ling, who by some accounts earns more than top Chinese actor Fan Bingbing, is just one aspect of a complex market for the unaware. There are even internet celebrity incubators. A specialist agency is vital to identify the KOL who will fit your brand and appeal to your target market; we knew Chinese rock band Miserable Faith were the right celebrities to promote our client Hard Rock Cafe – a simple lunch resulted in postings on Weibo which reached over 3 million.

So make sure you’ve done extensive research – or work with an expert agency – to find the right celebrity or KOL for your brand, use PR to consumer and trade media, and cultivate relevant Chinese bloggers.

Cash isn’t king

The Chinese don’t have access to Visa and Mastercard credit cards and have tended to pay in cash overseas – a natural spend inhibitor given concerns about the safety of carrying too much money in a foreign land. Hence the need for merchants to accept payment by China Union Pay, the bank card most widely used by the Chinese, is well-established. If you want to be included on a Chinese itinerary, you really ought to accept China Union Pay; Harrods has over 100 Union Pay terminals throughout the store.

The need to accept Union Pay is so well-established, in fact, that the world of Chinese payments is moving on. 99% of all Chinese online shoppers use mobile payment apps. In China these days even small retailers such as food stalls accept payment by mobile app. And Chinese outbound tourists increasingly wish to use the same payment methods overseas as they do at home.

The spread of Alibaba’s payments platform Alipay into Europe is designed to do just that; allow Chinese tourists to pay overseas using a familiar payment method. Alipay is increasingly available at European airports, luxury retailers and other places with high visitation by Chinese tourists. Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) recently signed a global partnership deal to accept payment by Alipay at all its hotels and through all digital and offline channels – not surprising when you realise that China is now IHG’s 2nd largest market globally. WeChat Pay is smaller than Alipay but still widely-trusted and used, and both payment channels are already spreading into Japan.

So make payment easy for the Chinese by accepting China Union Pay, and if you’re a big retail outlet, think about Alipay and WeChat Pay too. Making this change could give you a valuable return. The first US shopping complex to accept China Union Pay soon became the site of Union Pay’s single largest transaction ever. Which was a 6 figure sum.

Welcome the Chinese in Chinese

Making the Chinese feel welcome could bring great rewards. If your destination or tourist attraction is Chinese-friendly, it’s far more likely to feature in a group itinerary, make it into the Chinese media, or appear in an independent traveller’s plans. Communications and signage in Chinese and a dual language website – not just translated but localised so it makes cultural sense to the Chinese – will all contribute to raising brand awareness and making Chinese visitors feel welcome. And Mandarin onsite signage is vital for that all-important selfie.

Cultural training will help your onsite team welcome the Chinese and help them make the most of their visit. One of our services, GREAT China Welcome training, backed by Visit Britain, takes just one day and will equip your team to better serve the Chinese, even if becoming fluent in Mandarin takes just a little bit longer. Could you answer a question in Mandarin? If the answer is no, consider having a few key points about your most expensive items available to read in Mandarin. That could clinch a sale which would otherwise walk away to the next store.

Get yourself onto Chinese group itineraries

Legend has it that there was once a time when Chinese tour guides could be encouraged to visit particular places on receipt of a small monetary reward. No more. President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption crackdown has reached into tourism and legitimate methods are required to get your offering onto Chinese group itineraries. And sadly this is not just a matter of meeting a few Chinese tour operators, liaising by email, agreeing rates et voilà, behold the arrival of many Chinese tour groups.

China’s time-honoured social hierarchy and cultural norms around trust impede speedy relationship-building. The Chinese favour long-term connections and these can’t be developed over just a couple of meetings. Expect to undertake repeated visits to meet your prospective partners or work with a local intermediary who can use their established connections to benefit your business. And don’t forget that ‘yes’ can mean ‘no’. British-Chinese cultural differences are multiple and challenging.

Tailor your brands to the Chinese

Chinese tourists are still eager to snap up luxury fashion in the form of clothes, handbags, sunglasses, watches and jewellery.

Bicester Village’s mix of designer and mid-market shops has proved a hit with the Chinese for whom it is reputedly the 2nd most visited destination in the UK after Buckingham Palace. A mix of high-end designer shops and mid-market brands is a great combination. And there’s a growing segment of Chinese visitors keen to seek out more quirky or original fashion too. New shopping app New Arrival is designed to bring independent overseas designers to the attention of Chinese fashionistas, highlighting shops in popular city destinations within and outside China as well as facilitating in-app purchases. Millennials in particular are making more self-focused decisions than older generations, opening up opportunities for the right smaller or niche brands.

Cosmetics and skincare, cheaper than in China and perfectly portable, are also a popular purchase for Chinese tourists in the UK. Gift purchases are common too, so consider offering bulk discounts and having traditional Chinese red gift envelopes available.

And make sure you offer heritage and quintessentially British and regional goods too. Tell the story of the brand and focus on its heritage, authenticity and quality to boost its appeal to Chinese tourists. For example, traditionally Scottish products such as tartan, whisky and cashmere are popular with Chinese tourists in Edinburgh. For authenticity’s sake, products should ideally be stamped Made in the UK – and certainly not Made in China.

Are you doing enough to attract Chinese shoppers?

So – are you doing enough to get your share of Chinese shoppers’ holiday spending? Are you promoting your offering in China; accepting China Union Pay; welcoming the Chinese in Mandarin; building relationships with the Chinese travel trade; and tailoring your retail offering to Chinese tourists? It might seem like a lot of work but it’s worth it; the Chinese are now in the top 10 inbound markets to the UK by value and their total visits to the UK were up +46% yr/yr to 2015.

To find out more about how you can make your retail outlet more attractive to the Chinese, contact us now for a no obligation chat.

For more news and views on the Chinese tourism scene, please read our other articles and sign up below to receive our newsletters.


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Bitesize China Facts

There’s an abundance of insight available about the Chinese travel market and, at China Travel Outbound, we make it our business to read and analyse as much as we can. But for a bit of ‘China Lite’, we’ve pulled together a few of our favourite stats about Chinese visitors to the UK. With thanks to VisitBritain.

It’s not all about the shopping

Although over 60% of Chinese like to shop in Britain, they don’t come here to shop, but for a host of other reasons. The top motivation the Chinese give for visiting Britain is to see our cultural attractions, followed by our countryside and sampling local food and drink.

Comedies, tragedies and mysteries

The Chinese are interested in British culture with the monarchy topping the chart. But literature is very important too, with Mr Shakespeare coming in at number 2 on the list, Sherlock Holmes at number 4 and a wizarding schoolboy at number 6. Even Agatha Christie makes it into the top 20.

Big planners. Last minute?

The Chinese love to plan. Of all the long haul travellers questioned in VisitBritain’s survey, they were the least likely to agree with the statement ‘I like to be spontaneous on holiday and decide on some of my itinerary at the last minute’. However, when it comes to booking, 44% book within one month of travel. Which seems pretty late to us, given that Britain is a long haul destination.

A passion for Scotland

Although 47% of all holiday nights are spent in London, the Chinese are more likely to go to Scotland than any other nationality. Whisky is very popular too.

Agents and operators dominate

71% of Chinese surveyed booked via a travel agent, operator or comparison site rather than direct. Compare that with with the US market which is only 30% via the trade. Big difference. But one thing we have learned through our work promoting British destinations to the Chinese is that the operators won’t push unknown attractions into itineraries as the customers will question the inclusion. So, although it is absolutely vital to engage with the travel trade, British destinations and attractions also need brand awareness amongst Chinese consumers.

Finally, everyone’s favourite fact

Everyone’s favourite fact about the Chinese is that only around 4% of the population actually have a passport. And China is already the biggest overseas travel market in the world. So what’s it going to look like when 10, 20 or even 50% of Chinese people own a passport? Just imagine…

If you are interested in finding out more, follow our news, views and insights into the Chinese travel market by signing up for our regular newsletter below. Or follow us on Twitter.


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A short guide to Chinese KOLs

The Chinese outbound traveller

Why China should be on your 2016 priority list.

10 reasons to invest in the Chinese travel market

The outbound market from China is not just the biggest source travel market in the world, it is also growing at an extraordinary rate. Whilst destinations, attractions and hotels have long since dedicated funds and resources to attracting visitors from Europe and North America, many are yet to market themselves in China. We’ve pulled together some big numbers, so read on to find out why you can’t afford to allow your travel brand to be left behind in the race for this lucrative market.

  1. It’s the largest outbound travel market in the world and the Chinese are travelling long haul too.

120 million Chinese people travelled overseas in 2015.

2.5 million Chinese tourists visited the USA in 2015 and 2 million visited France. China is the 2nd largest market for tourists to Australia and Bali and it’s the 5th largest market to the USA. The US State Department forecasts that Chinese travellers to the USA will be over 7 million by 2020.

In Q2 2016, for the first time, more Chinese tourists travelled outside Greater China than within it (Greater China = Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan).

  1. And it’s still growing.

The number of Chinese outbound tourists is forecast to nearly double to 220 million by 2020. And China’s outbound travel spend is forecast to reach US$255 billion by 2025, twice that of the USA. Just in Q2 2016 Chinese travel agencies organised 13.72 million trips, an increase of +17% y-o-y.

Only 4% of the Chinese population has a passport but around 10 million new passports are issued every year.

  1. China is one of the top 10 most valuable inbound markets to the UK.

Nearly 270,000 Chinese visited the UK last year, an increase of +47% y-o-y. They spent £586 million, an increase of +18% y-o-y. ¾ of Chinese tourists departing the UK are ‘very likely’ or ‘extremely likely’ to recommend Britain for a holiday or short break.

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.

  1. The expanding middle class millennials spend a lot, travel independently, and are confident.

50% of China’s outbound tourists are millennials (those aged 15-29). There are 315 million Chinese in this age bracket and they will be joined by a further 74 million college graduates in the next 10 years.

74% of Chinese millennials feel they have more in common with their age group globally than with other Chinese people. They expect to spend US$4,362 on luxury goods in 2015. 66% pick Western brands over Asian luxury brands.

  1. China is forecast to be the first trillion-dollar aviation market.

Boeing delivered a record number of aeroplanes (200) to China in 2015 – the most it has ever delivered to a single market in one year. China’s passenger traffic rose 11.4% to 485 million passenger trips in 2015 and Boeing forecasts 6.4% annual growth in passenger traffic over the next 20 years.

In 2014, there were 396 international air routes from China. In 2015, there were 460. In 2016, there are 574.

  1. And air links between China and the UK are increasing.

In June 2016 Beijing-Manchester, the first direct air link between China and the North of England, launched. In August, BA agreed a codeshare with China Eastern which adds Kunming, Nanjing, Xi’an, Hangzhou and Chongqing to their route map. There are also rumours that Hainan Airlines are looking at direct routes from China to Ireland and Scotland.

  1. It’s easier to get a visa to visit the UK. Which should make a big difference.

The duration of the standard visitor visa for the Chinese was extended from 6 months to 2 years’ multiple entry at the beginning of 2016 and it’s easier for Chinese to apply for a UK visa too, since the mobile fingerprinting service has been extended from 9 to 50 cities. The UK already has more visa application centres in China than any other EU nation. Improving access to destinations for the Chinese has historically yielded a visitor increase of +20%.

  1. Chinese tourists are the biggest holiday spenders. They spend $74 million A DAY in the USA.

A Chinese tourist’s average holiday spend is nearly £1,900. Chinese tourists account for 30% of global luxury spending and 41% of Chinese tourists will take an extra suitcase on holiday just to accommodate their purchases.

40% of Chinese consumers’ luxury spending occurs overseas. In 2014, 2.18mn Chinese visited the USA and spent US$2.1 billion. The US State Department forecasts that Chinese travellers to the USA will be over 7 million by 2020 and they’ll spend over US$85 billion. Chinese tourists spent US$74 million every day in the USA in 2015. 

  1. It’s not just a group market.

Independent travel is the fastest-growing sector of Chinese outbound tourism. In 2014 over 70% of Chinese outbound tourists booked and paid for their trips themselves (rather than paying for organised tours).

  1. And if you want to sell to them, they’re waiting for you online.

More Chinese go online via their mobile ‘phones than Americans, Brazilians and Indonesians combined. More than 700 million Chinese are online and China’s online retail market is the biggest in the world.

To find out more about how to start marketing your travel or tourism brand to the Chinese, contact Helena Beard or Julie Withers at China Travel Outbound for a no obligation chat, or click here to read more of our articles about Chinese tourism.

With thanks to our sources:


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Record breaking overseas travel during this year’s Chinese Spring Festival



More than 750 million Chinese expected to travel during October’s Golden Week

Golden Week is the single biggest holiday for the Chinese and last year saw around 750 million people – half of China’s population – hit the road. While many travel domestically, increasing numbers are using this opportunity to fulfil dreams of further-flung travel. At least 4 million Chinese travelled overseas in Golden Week in 2015 and that figure is set to be surpassed this year.

Record Golden Week spend expected in 2016

While we’re probably all relieved not to be jostling for space amongst the 12.5 million Chinese who travelled on China’s railways on just one day of Golden Week last year, the UK is preparing for a bumper week. Golden Week visits by Chinese tourists to London quadrupled in 2015 compared with 2014, and this trend is certain to continue in 2016 thanks to the recent boost in Chinese holidaymakers driven by the beneficial exchange rate. Harrods has been running Golden Week promotions for several years, offering special ‘lucky’ products, increasing its number of Mandarin-speaking staff and highlighting the holiday in its WeChat account.

Golden Week shopping promotions go global

The Chinese are by far the highest spenders of all tourists and recent research by global tax-free shopping company Global Blue found that the average Chinese holidaymaker’s shopping budget is ¥16,702 (around £1,900). It’s hardly surprising, then, that plenty of other destinations and retailers have a history of bespoke activity to attract the Chinese in Golden Week. Department stores including New York’s Macy’s, Paris’ Galeries Lafayette and Spain’s El Corte Ingles all ran special Golden Week promotions last year. El Corte Ingles partnered with luxury watchmakers to offer exclusive gifts with purchases, and publicised special offers at its flagship Castellana store in Madrid via its WeChat account. South Korea even invented its own holiday, South Korea Black Friday, to encourage Chinese tourists to shop.

Chinese overseas trips continue their unstoppable rise

Golden Week begins with China’s National Day on 1 October, the day the People’s Republic was founded in 1949. And thanks to the PRC’s economic growth and opening up over the past few years, the flow of Chinese travelling overseas continues to grow. There was a +17% increase in overseas trips organised by Chinese travel agencies in Q2 2016 and that period was also the first time that visits by mainland Chinese tourists to non-Chinese overseas destinations exceeded those to ‘Greater China’ (Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), underlining the unstoppable trend towards longhaul travel.

To find out more about the Chinese tourism market, read more of our blogs here, or sign up to our newsletter below.


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China’s footballing future: the rise of a new soccer superpower?

It’s perhaps not quite as a big a shock as Leicester City winning the Premier League, but British football fans will be surprised to learn that football was invented not in the UK but in China. Yes, China. While FIFA recognises that the contemporary history of the sport started in England in 1863, when rugby football and association football went their separate ways, it cites as the very earliest form of football the Han Dynasty sport of Tsu’ Chu. In the 2nd century BC.

Perhaps this early Chinese version of today’s game is part of the motivation behind China’s stated aim of becoming a world football superpower by 2050. Certainly ardent fan President Xi Jinping’s football masterplan is in full flow. Its objectives are for China to have 50mn football players by 2020; to build or renovate 6,000 stadiums or pitches; and to create 50,000 football schools within the next 10 years. Football became a compulsory part of the Chinese national curriculum earlier this year and private football academies, often with European coaches, are booming. Real Madrid has been working with Guangzhou Evergrande on their football academy since 2011. President Xi has made clear, through statements and funding, that the state will support private enterprise to double the size of China’s overall sporting economy by 2025. The ultimate prize is a US$800bn sports economy –and for China to host the FIFA World Cup.

The Chinese Super League’s record transfer fees

It’s true that China is not yet quite in the major league when it comes to international football. FIFA’s July ’16 international rankings place the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at 81, just behind St Kitts and Nevis (population: 55,000). The PRC has made it to only one World Cup final, in 2002, and failed to score a single goal before bowing out. But if any nation can power and invest its way into football’s top flight, it’s China. Especially with avowed state and private backing.

Like the J-League before it, at first the Chinese Super League was most tempting to ageing stars looking for their last (lucrative) big playing gig in pastures new. But latterly the players making the move East have been far from today’s early ‘90s Gary Linekers; rather, they have been bona fide stars at the top of their (ahem) game. Perhaps the first time the wider world noticed this trend was in January when Brazilian midfielder Ramires moved from Chelsea to Nanjing’s Jiangsu Suning and his compatriot Alex Teixeira followed – in preference to a move to the Kop. Chinese Super League clubs spent a record US$365mn in the January-February ’16 transfer window.

Chinese investment reaches into Europe

China is extending its reach into European leagues too. President Li Xinping included a visit to Manchester City last year during his visit to the UK, sharing a selfie with Sergio Aguero and a (photobombing?) David Cameron. Not long afterwards the club benefitted from £265mn Chinese state-backed private investment.  Chinese investment in European clubs is already substantial. Atletico Madrid is 20% Chinese-owned. Silvio Berlusconi has agreed to sell AC Milan to a Chinese consortium; its rivals Inter Milan are already under Chinese ownership. An interesting trio of West Midlands clubs – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion – are or soon will be Chinese-owned. Even Leeds United are rumoured to be near to a Chinese takeover.

President Li Xinping’s exhortations to invest in the game are seeing support in other areas of business too. Alibaba’s Tmall hosts online stores for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, and Alibaba Sports Group was set up in 2015. Alibaba’s Jack Ma, of course, is also co-owner of Guangzhou Evergrande, commenting at the time, “We’re not investing in football, we’re investing in entertainment”. Wang Jianlin, owner of Dalian Wanda, bought a Swiss sports marketing company in 2015 and is the owner of that 20% of Atletico Madrid.

Growing Chinese football tourism

Chinese families are increasingly interested in football too, partly because team games offer the opportunities for teamwork and camaraderie that being an only child does not. And the family interest in sport is rising along with the blossoming of Chinese football tourism. Manchester City became the first UK football club to offer tours in Mandarin this year and demand has been high, fuelled by the launch of the first direct flights from China to the North with the inauguration of Hainan Airlines’ Beijing to Manchester route in June. In fact Manchester is becoming even more of a footballing hub, home not only to the National Football Museum (tours available in Chinese) but also the recently-opened Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs venture, Hotel Football.

As far back as 1999 a Manchester United game in Shanghai welcomed 60,000 fans. These days Manchester United has more than 100mn fans in China, and the evident disappointment when the Manchester derby failed to take place in Beijing this July shows that Chinese fans can be just as passionate as local ones. A January ’16 survey of digital media presence in China put Man Utd in 2nd place and Liverpool 3rd, both trailing Bayern Munich.

More than 350 million Chinese regularly watch Premier League games. Not wanting to miss out on this vast market, Arsenal signed an exclusive content deal with China’s most popular TV football show Total Soccer in January.  And Arsenal already offers stadium tours in Mandarin.

Chinese football fans…want travel agencies to be able to book football experiences as part of their holiday.

Chinese football fans are setting up supporters’ clubs, buying merchandise and engaging with their teams online. They are increasingly keen to visit their teams, not just to have a photo taken, but to immerse themselves in their favourite clubs. To do so, they need to be able to read about stadium tours and museums and book match tickets and packages in Mandarin. They want travel agencies to be able to book football experiences as part of their holiday. And some are even choosing their universities based on proximity to their favourite Premier League clubs.

With state backing, massive private investment, presidential favour and growing interest from Chinese consumers, football in China is unquestionably on the up. Our relationships with the Chinese travel trade and media can help you promote your tourism offering to your Chinese fan base to increase tour and museum visits and ticket and merchandise sales. Contact us now for a chat about China’s growing passion for The Beautiful Game.


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The business of sport in China

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The business of sport in China

China’s success at the Rio Olympics will be welcomed not only by the general population but also – and especially – by China’s political leaders whose attention has recently turned to growing the country’s sport economy. In Beijing in 2008, for the first time ever, China won more medals than the USA, capping a games which had been designed to underline China’s position on the world stage as a global economic and political superpower. Of course China is a sporting superpower too, though strong historically in some of the more overlooked (in the West) sports such as table tennis. The breath-taking extravaganza of the Beijing Olympics certainly had all eyes upon it but there has been patchy success at leveraging the Olympic legacy in China, resulting in renewed state support for sports development in 2014 in the form of a State Council Guiding Opinion. Similar to football’s masterplan, this sets out objectives for China’s sport economy and has kick-started China’s further investment in sport.

The sporting plan for 2025

China aims to have 500 million participants in sport by 2025. This participation goal is part of a package of objectives designed to raise China’s game over the coming decade. The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sports industry was valued at 400 billion yuan (US$61 billion) in 2015 and is planned to reach 3 trillion yuan by 2020, rising from 0.7% to 1% of GDP. With strong state and political backing, this is an achievable goal. By comparison, the USA’s sports industry contributes around 3% towards GDP.

Dragon boat racing and China’s early version of football date back at least 2,000 years. China boasts a long association with the martial arts and popular recreational sport includes table tennis, badminton, billiards, snooker and (increasingly) football. Indeed, traditional Chinese culture prizes physical fitness. Prior to the 1990s, Chinese sport was effectively government-funded within the command economy, but in 1994, at a time of growing marketisation, football was the first sport to be professionalised. Other sport, including table tennis and badminton, followed. This was the first platform for sport to be turned into a business in the country.

Table tennis and a clean sweep of medals at the Beijing Olympics

It seems likely that table tennis began in the latter part of the 19th century as a parlour game in the UK, although debate around the origins of table tennis/ping pong/wiff waff remains, in table tennis circles at least. Whatever its roots, the game has long been widely-played in China and the PRC completed a clean sweep of medals at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In London in 2012, China won all medals open to them after a rule change was made to avoid one country (China) taking all medal positions. Intensive training, individual practice and early nurturing of talent in specialist sports academies are some of the contributing factors to China’s domination of the sport.

Table tennis has played an important part in China’s political history too, with matches between the USA and China the lever which prised open the door to Nixon’s ground-breaking visit to the PRC in 1972. This series of events later became known as Ping Pong Diplomacy.

Martial arts and Kung Fu Panda

China is home to several hundred different martial arts, the origins of which lie in military training in ancient China. Later aligned with Maoism, partly to discourage any connections with potentially subversive ideas of self-defence, martial arts have held a central place in popular Chinese culture for the last century. Wuxia or martial arts fiction came to international attention in film form in the 1970s with Bruce Lee’s global hit Enter the Dragon, and Jackie Chan later picked up this mantle and maintained a multi-billion dollar business from it, largely through success in Asia until the late 1990s. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and the use of martial arts with CGI in The Matrix marked the genre’s return to the big time and martial arts have been popular in Hollywood action movies in more recent years, perhaps reaching their peak in Tarantino’s Kill Bill. And Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda.

Basketball and the Yao Ming effect

Thanks to a long history, and more recently the star effect of Yao Ming, China’s most successful basketball player of all time, around 300 million Chinese play basketball. Yao Ming’s retirement in 2011 prompted over 1 million comments on Weibo and he was elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year. More Chinese players have since followed in his footsteps into the National Basketball Assocation (NBA) across the Pacific, and the NBA in turn is spreading its reach in China. The CBA Dongguan Basketball School, an NBA training centre designed to foster elite young basketball talent in China, opened in 2011, and joint training camps between the NBA and Yao Ming have been taking place since 2014.

China is the NBA’s largest market outside the USA by some chalk, and will no doubt be further boosted by China’s men’s national team’s appearance at the Rio Olympics.

The 3 trillion yuan opportunity

As household incomes rise, increasing numbers of Chinese parents are keen to provide their (only) children with a more balanced childhood and education than that produced by an emphasis on intensive schooling and piano or violin lessons. Parents are also recognising that sport can provide an experience of teamwork not easily found in a one child family – and for the 500,00 families whose children went overseas to study in 2015, most of them to the USA, sport can act as a great cultural bridge into an unfamiliar society.

And with rising global influence in China, teenagers and young people also see in sport an opportunity for self-expression and individuality. Trainers are perhaps as highly regarded as status symbols as they are in the UK or USA, and have recently become a common reward for high performance in exams.

Advertising, sponsorship, manufacturing and more

China is the largest sporting goods manufacturer in the world – but the big profits in sport lie elsewhere and especially in sponsorship, advertising and entertainment. Chinese sports sponsorship is slowly taking off. The sponsorship of the UEFA EURO 2016 tournament by Chinese electronics giant Hisense was the first such UEFA sponsorship by a Chinese company. One of China’s largest sports manufacturers, 361 Degrees International, is an official sponsor of the Rio Olympics – but opinion is divided as to whether this kind of deal will help home-grown manufacturers pick up the pace against global brands such as Nike. An interesting side-effect of Yao Ming’s high profile in the NBA has been that such sports megabrands need no longer rely exclusively on local stars to promote their goods, introducing more consistency and cost efficiencies across markets for the global brands, and perhaps disadvantaging local brands even more.

On the domestic front, there is increasing money to be made from the business of sport in China. 5-year sponsorship rights to the Chinese football Super League were sold last year for a record 8 billion yuan (about US$1.25bn); the previous 1 year’s rights had sold for just 60 million yuan. The NBA has an official store on Alibaba’s online shopping site Tmall, and its licensing deals in China include a partnership with beer brand Harbin. It also has a 5-year partnership from 2015 with (major ISP) Tencent which guarantees the NBA US$500 million.

In 2015 Chinese athletes won 127 world championship titles in 25 sports, and Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in 2022.  There is no other market in the world which could declare a target of 500 million people to play sport by 2025 – and stand an excellent chance of achieving the goal. Sport is becoming big business in China, and the rewards are only going to increase with time.

So how does China’s increasing focus on sport affect its outbound travel market? Purchases of sports merchandise are on the rise as global brand sports superstars with big sponsorship deals extend their reach into the PRC. Over 350 million Chinese watch Premier League football matches and their enthusiasm for seeing UK clubs during pre-season tours is joining with their plans for overseas holidays; fans want to visit their team’s stadiums and see them play live on home turf or take stadium tours. Wealthy Chinese football fans are seeking exclusive experiences, such as the VIP tour options offered by the UK’s top football clubs. There are also opportunities to promote event spaces and conference facilities to the MICE market.

We specialise in promoting tourism brands to the Chinese travel trade and media, and, through cooperation with our tour operator partners, we can help ensure your club’s Chinese fans include a visit to your home ground within their European holiday itinerary. Contact us now for a chat about how to raise your profile and encourage more visitors from China.

Image: Xu Xin by Doha Stadium Plus. Licensed.


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Let’s go … explosive shopping!

Shopping has long been a major motivator for overseas travel by the Chinese, and Bicester Village may be the 2nd most visited place in the UK by Chinese tourists after Buckingham Palace. And since the Chinese are easily the highest overseas spenders of all inbound tourists – making up one-third of all global tax-free shopping spend – it’s clear that there are great rewards for destinations and shopping complexes which attract the Chinese and their yuan. Research by Visit Britain ranks ‘shopping’ in the top 3 activities undertaken by Chinese in the UK and tourists are researching their shopping options before they travel, so it’s important for shops, centres and destinations to market their brands in China.

Explosive Shopping

Short-haul destinations have been fine-tuning their retail offering and services for Chinese visitors for some time. South Korea has 13 tax-free shopping malls mainly targeting Chinese tourists while Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district has long been a popular stop for Chinese visitors keen to stock up on televisions and rice cookers. The Japanese have even developed a new word for Chinese shoppingBakugai means “explosive shopping” and describes the eager purchasing carried out by Chinese holidaymakers in the Land of the Rising Sun. Tabloid stories of frenzied Chinese shopping abound – with one of the most notorious the (tall?) tale of two Chinese families fighting over the last box of disposable nappies in a Kobe department store.

The Japanese National Tourist Organisation calculates that Chinese visitors in Japan spend 35% more on average than visitors from other countries – and with Chinese visitors numbers to Japan +41% so far in 2016, that adds up to very significant spend in yen. Or yuan.

The rise of Chinese shopping tourism

No less a body than the United Nations World Tourism Organisation has recognised and defined the new concept of “shopping tourism”, describing it as “a growing component of the travel experience, either as a prime motivation or one of the major activities undertaken by tourists at their destinations”. It’s easy to think that the Chinese market was in mind when the UNWTO were deciding on this new category. Recent research by global tax-free shopping company Global Blue found that 81% of all Chinese overseas tourists plan to shop in their destination and their average budget is around ¥16.702 (£1,900).

Designer outlet specialist McArthur Glen is focusing its attention on luring Chinese shoppers into its centres abroad. Its marketing team in China works with trade partners to drive footfall to its overseas outlets, where Chinese shoppers are the single largest international visitor group and make up a third of all international spend. The China team also works closely with the European outlets to carry out cultural training and put other Chinese visitor-friendly measures in place including employing Mandarin-speaking staff and accepting payment methods such as Alipay.

McArthur Glen is clear that WeChat and Weibo are key to connecting with and influencing Chinese consumers before and during their trip. Chinese visits to their European malls increased by +74% in 2015 versus 2014.

In the USA, luxury shopping destinations are also fighting hard for Chinese business, not least because the US Department of Commerce estimates the average shopping spend of Chinese tourists at US$6,000. California’s “global shopping destination” South Coast Plaza has dual language website, advertising and signage, employs Mandarin-speaking concierges and has traditional Chinese red gift envelopes available. In 2012 it became the first US shopping complex to accept China Union Pay and soon after was the site of Union’s Pay single largest transaction ever, a 6 figure sum – an event which prompted a visit (and presumably a thank you) from Union Pay’s CEO.

Why is shopping such an important part of the Chinese holiday experience?

Imported goods in China tend to be perceived as superior to local goods. This tendency began with a lack of quality in early Chinese manufacturing and has been fuelled in recent years by scandals ranging from lead paint in children’s toys to melamine-contaminated baby milk. Imported goods are also subject to high taxes in China so their purchase overseas is cheaper – as well as being status-enhancing. The range of goods on offer outside China is usually wider too, making purchases that bit more tempting.

And it can be hard to be sure that your luxury purchase – indeed, any purchase – in China is genuine. Recently Alibaba has strengthened its efforts to remove counterfeits from its shopping websites Taobao and Tmall, promising to work closely with global brands and even announcing the launch of a new online system to track and remove fakes in early July. These highly publicised efforts are partly designed to counter Alibaba’s reputation as a haven for fake goods, a belief not helped by owner Jack Ma’s comments in June that ‘fake’ luxury goods made in Chinese factories have ‘better quality’ and ‘a better price than the real product’.

While Alibaba’s policies will apply mainly to fakes badged as luxury goods, the unwary may still be caught out by items which appear almost identical to branded luxury products but use a different (sometimes similar) name.

So to avoid fakes and poor quality goods, to choose from a wider range and buy at a keener price … the Chinese are eager to buy goods outside China.

What do the Chinese buy?

Luxury goods are still a favourite overseas purchase of the Chinese. Jewellery, fashion, watches, handbags and cosmetics are all bought in significant volumes. In fact, in 2015, the total overseas spend by Chinese on luxury goods was as high as the domestic spend at US$50 billion – hardly surprising when you realise that many luxury goods are half the price overseas as they are at home. But it’s not just about luxury. Heritage and quintessentially British items are also popular. Traditional British brands are always a draw and (toy) sheep fly off the shelves at Stonehenge – as long as there aren’t any ‘Made in China’ stamps in sight.

Encouraging Chinese shoppers to choose your destination or shopping centre

Global Blue’s research shows that the average overseas Chinese tourist plans and researches their trip almost 3 months in advance, with 43% consulting travel, shopping and fashion websites and 38% using brand channels on social media. And the perception of a country or a destination as good for shopping can be a significant factor in destination choice: 80% of Chinese visitors to Madrid cite shopping as a major motivation.

This makes clear the need to reach out to tourists before their departure from China and ideally before their travel plans are set. To influence Chinese tourists’ choice of destination it’s necessary to establish a presence in Chinese social media and with influencers in China itself. WeChat and Weibo accounts are essential and it’s also worth having a presence on Weibo’s specialised travel portal on which consumers subscribe to receive updates on destinations. Outreach and promotion to Chinese media, celebrities and Key Opinion Leaders are also vital, and it’s important to use specialist Chinese insight to select the right Chinese influencers.

Your website should be in Chinese but it’s not as simple as just translating it – it’s important that the website is localised so that its content and format is appropriate to local cultural sensibilities.

Welcoming Chinese visitors

Adapting your destination or shopping complex to better welcome Chinese will pay off in higher spend and (later) in recommendations, both in person and especially in Chinese social media. Dual-language signage and Mandarin-speaking staff make the Chinese tourist feel welcome, and China Welcome Training can instill an understanding of Chinese culture. Make sure you offer Chinese payment methods such as China Union Pay, Alipay and WeChat Wallet, and offer free Wifi for the use of mobile payment services – and so your Chinese visitors can carry out quick price comparisons to see just how much money they are saving by buying their goods overseas.

According to Trip Advisor, 41% of Chinese tourists will take an extra suitcase on a trip just to accommodate their purchases. If you are keen to ensure your goods are in that suitcase, contact us now to find out how we can help you boost your presence in China.


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Chinese students in the UK: a missed tourism opportunity?

China is the world’s biggest source of international students and it’s estimated that nearly 1 million Chinese are currently studying overseas.  Formerly the preserve of the elite – President Li Xinping’s own daughter studied at Harvard – overseas study is increasingly affordable to China’s growing middle class, who may make considerable sacrifices to grant their only child a foreign university education.  1 in 6 overseas students is Chinese, and yet the tourism potential of this group in the UK has hardly begun to be explored.

It’s estimated that nearly 1 million Chinese are currently studying abroad, and China’s Ministry of Education reports that over 500,000 Chinese went overseas to study in 2015 alone.  In the same year the 58,000 Chinese enrolling for their first year at UK universities outnumbered the total number of students from the 27 countries of the EU doing the same.  And while they are usually embarking upon their overseas adventure entirely independently, a few are even accompanied by their (‘tiger’) mothers in an intercontinental version of helicopter parenting.

Chinese overseas students are fueling a property boom too.  In some areas of California, the majority of new-build housing is bought by Chinese, and total Chinese real estate purchases in the USA were valued at US$110bn in 2015. Whispers abound that London’s new build luxury housing stock is being snapped up by Chinese purchasers – and while that may be the case, only one London university makes the top 10 by Chinese student numbers.

The educational and cultural lure of Liverpool and Manchester

Chinese students make up around 4% of the student body in the UK.  A strong academic tradition and established university system combine with history and Royal glamour to tempt Chinese undergraduates to the Land of Fish and Chips.  Perennial favourite Sherlock Holmes plays a part too, not least because his latest impersonator Curly Foo (as Benedict Cumberbatch is known in Mandarin) sits squarely within the tradition of the English gentleman.

The perhaps surprising geographical spread of Chinese students in the UK sees a preference for universities in the Midlands and the North, with the universities of Liverpool and Manchester the top draws. The capital has only one representative, University College of London, in the top 10 by number of Chinese students.

A missed tourism opportunity?

Little attention so far has been paid to the significant tourism opportunity posed by Chinese students studying in the UK. This is perhaps surprising given their numbers, average length of stay of 2-4 years and curiosity to visit attractions in their host country.  We asked Mei Si, a student at Brighton University, for her insight into UK-based Chinese students’ travel.

One potentially lucrative aspect of Chinese students’ travel is the trip made by their parents for graduation, which usually takes place in the June to July or December to January period. This is the most likely time for Chinese parents to visit their offspring studying overseas and they’re keen to see the sights of the UK, on trips which can last from a few days to a couple of months. The Chinese student organises and books the trip which is likely to include some traditional sights such as Big Ben and luxury shops, but there is also space for other destinations – providing the Chinese student is aware of them.

Chinese students, like their home-based counterparts, are greatly influenced by reviews and recommendations in Chinese media and social media. Reaching Chinese students, even once in the UK, depends on cultivating positive coverage in Chinese media. The unexpected success of Brighton’s Regency Seafood Restaurant underlines the enormous returns which can come from just one celebrity endorsement in China, and small product adaptations, for instance Mandarin signage, information and audioguides, can make a big difference when it comes to garnering a following in China.

We can help to promote your product in China and raise your profile on social media. Contact us for a chat – we’d love to hear from you.


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An insight into the travel of Chinese students living in the UK

Guest blog by Mei Si, a Chinese student at the University of Brighton.

Do parents visit during the year?

June – July, and December – January are the hot seasons for Chinese parents to visit their children’s graduation ceremonies. Chinese parents are more likely to visit the UK only once in their time at university for their children’s graduation ceremony. They normally stay around few days to two months. It depends on their work time.

How do Chinese students book their flight to their UK Universities?

There are two main ways for Chinese students to book their flights to their Universities: Chinese travel agencies and airlines. Baidu, tuniu and qyer are some of the most popular travel agencies in China, although there are a wide range of international travel agency websites in the market. Chinese students, however seem more comfortable to use the websites they are familiar with.

Do they stay in hotels booked from China? What do they do when they get to UK?

When it comes to travel abroad, Chinese parents tend to rely on their children about organising travel plan because of the language barrier and the cultural differences between China and the UK. Chinese students would usually organise hotels, flights as well as travel plans for their parents on Chinese travel agency websites. These websites occasionally offer some fixed package deals to attract customers e.g. a 14 day UK trip including around tickets, 13 night hotels and some UK attractions’ discount tickets.

In addition, one of the features of these websites are blogs of travellers who share their unique travel plans about where they shop, eat and visit in the UK. Also, there are some recommendations about hotels and flights. It can give the consumers some ideas about where to bring their parents to visit.

It is a must to visit all the attractions and main shopping centres in the UK (Big Ben, London Bridge, British Museum, Oxbridge Universities, Oxford Bicester Village, London Burberry outlet etc) but always with their children. Parents who have children studying in the UK would definitely visit.

Considerations when choosing places to visit

When considering places, price is not the most important factor. Reviews and recommendations in Chinese have far greater reach.

In terms of eating out, Chinese families visiting would often eat from Chinese restaurants, as many do not like the typical dishes served, especially the cold dishes, and would rather eat familiar foods.

Despite this, visiting Chinese families would often try food recommended in blogs and reports, including famous establishments like Burger & Lobster, Duck & Waffle, both in London and Riddle & Finns in Brighton.

In conclusion, it seems that Chinese students’ preferences and advice from Chinese travel agencies’ blogs are the main factors which influence Chinese parents’ travel plans in the UK.


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