Chinese Tourism Leaders’ (Virtual) Forum 2020

On 21 October, we were delighted to share insight into the Chinese travel market with senior representatives from the UK’s leading destination organisations, transport operators, tour operators and visitor attractions at the fourth annual Chinese Tourism Leaders’ event. Hosted by China Travel Outbound and Capela China, settling around Zoom wasn’t quite the same as enjoying Peking Duck in Chinatown but it was a fantastic success nevertheless.

Vivienne Song, China Director for China Travel Outbound, and Helena Beard, Managing Director in the UK, shared the latest information on the Chinese travel market. We heard that life in China is back to normal with the only Covid-19 changes relating to mask-wearing and Track and Trace requirements. China’s domestic travel market has been the first in the world to recover, with flight bookings down only -2% in August, and 75% of China’s travel agents back at work. Post-Covid-19 revenge travel took hold for Golden Week with 637 million trips being made, and strengthening trends include small tailormade tours, self-drive, rail, and luxury and personalised service. A lust for open spaces, remote islands, and direct contact with local cultures will be an emerging trend once the market returns to our shores.

We were delighted to be joined by Richard Nicholls, Head of Research and Forecasting for VisitBritain, who talked us through recent changes to VisitBritain China stats. For several years now there have been significant anomalies between VisitBritain figures for Chinese inbound tourists to the UK, and data from other sources such as number of visas issued. This issue has been discussed at length by the Chinese Tourism Leaders’ group in the past so the audience was very happy to hear that this has now been resolved.  The updated stats show a very substantial increase in Chinese inbound tourist visits to the UK with the revised total more than doubling to 860,000 in 2018. 2019 saw 883,000 Chinese inbound visits to the UK. In fact China’s £1.7bn spend in 2019 makes it the second largest inbound market by expenditure.

The timing for the return of the market was also discussed, with expectation that the first significant influx of Chinese tourists will be seen in Summer 2021. More accurate predications will be possible following Chinese New Year in February 21 when we will see how and where the Chinese government lifts restrictions on international travel. Helena Beard highlighted to the audience that the more immediate opportunity lies with international students and announced that a new student-focused product would be launched by the agency next month to service this market.

We also heard from Clive Doble of Value Retail, Bicester Village, who talked about the abolition of tax-free shopping for international visitors to the UK from 1st January ’21. This policy would make it about 20% more expensive for Chinese travellers to visit the UK and shop here. It would have a detrimental impact on international visitor figures and come as a huge blow to the inbound tourism sector which is already one of the sectors impacted most severely by COVID-19.  Joss Croft, CEO of UKinbound, reassured the forum that intense lobbying continues to try to reverse this decision.

The Chinese Tourism Leaders’ group was created by specialist agencies China Travel Outbound and Capela China to share insights and best practice between the destinations, visitor attractions, transport companies and tourism brands who are at the forefront of Chinese inbound tourism to the UK.

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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