Mil­lion pounds

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

spent by Chi­nese tourists in Bri­tain last year

visit lux­ury stores while in the UK, and spend an av­er­age of £2,100 ($2,800) per vis­i­tor, ac­cord­ing to Pa­tri­cia Yates, di­rec­tor of strat­egy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at VisitBri­tain, part of the Bri­tish Tourist Author­ity.

“We know that value is one of the most im­por­tant cri­te­ria for hol­i­day choice across the world, and Bri­tain is look­ing like a par­tic­u­larly good value for Chi­nese cur­rency — we are 8 per­cent cheaper than this time last year,” Yates said. “I think it is im­por­tant for our long­haul mar­kets like China that we get the mes­sage out that we are a par­tic­u­larly good value.”

China’s out­bound tourism has grown at dou­ble the rate of its GDP over the past three years, and vis­its to the UK leaped by 46 per­cent in 2015. In­creased dis­pos­able in­come among Chi­nese and changes to visa reg­u­la­tions have con­trib­uted to the up­turn, yet Yates said the rapid in­flux of Chi­nese tourists into the UK caught VisitBri­tain by sur­prise.

“When we first fore­cast where our mar­ket growth would come from im­me­di­ately post-Olympics, we talked about China re­ally be­ing the long play — we wanted to dou­ble the value of the mar­ket by 2020 to £1 bil­lion, but we have seen China grow so quickly that it is no longer a long play, it is one of the most valu­able mar­kets,” she said.

Last year, spend­ing by Chi­nese tourists in Bri­tain rose 18 per­cent to £586 mil­lion, mak­ing it the ninth most valu­able mar­ket for the UK in terms of spend­ing. For many in tourism, retail and hos­pi­tal­ity, get­ting “China ready” has been cen­tral to busi­ness strat­egy in re­cent years. More than 300 busi­nesses signed up for the UK’s China Wel­come pro­gram to help find ways of mak­ing their prod­uct more ap­peal­ing to Chi­nese vis­i­tors.

Bei­wei 55’s Smith said Bri­tish brands are in strong de­mand by Chi­nese tourists, and that a trip to Ox­ford Street is as im­por­tant as a “selfie” in front of Big Ben.

“In gen­eral, shop­ping is a must do while (Chi­nese vis­i­tors) are in the UK,” Smith said. Trav­el­ers have started to re­quest vis­its to less in­ter­na­tion­ally es­tab­lished re­tail­ers, like the health store Hol­land & Bar­rett and the shoe­maker Clarks, in ad­di­tion to prom­i­nent lux­ury brands.

“There are the ob­vi­ous brands, like Burberry, that they are af­ter, but there are cer­tain ones which are less ex­pected like (hand­made cos­met­ics com­pany) Lush,” he said.

Lush has taken sev­eral mea­sures to im­prove the ex­pe­ri­ence for Chi­nese vis­i­tors at its stores. Many Lush shops carry cat­a­logs in sim­pli­fied Chi­nese, and all of its UK tills ac­cept Bank of China cards. UnionPay and Ali­pay will be ac­cepted on its UK web­site start­ing in Au­gust.

“We know (Chi­nese cus­tomers) like to visit the home of Lush in the UK,” Karen Hux­ley, head of global public re­la­tions at Lush, said. “Shops in key tourist ar­eas have Man­darin-speak­ing staff — like our Ox­ford Street store.”

While lux­ury brands are likely to be buoyed by in­creased sales to for­eign­ers be­cause of the weak­en­ing pound, there is con­cern among re­tail­ers over in­fla­tion af­fect­ing im­ported goods and fall­ing de­mand from do­mes­tic con­sumers.

Beyond retail, Yates said one of the big­gest driv­ers for the UK tourism in­dus­try is the coun­try’s an­cient and mod­ern cul­tures. From Shake­speare to Sher­lock Holmes to Harry Pot­ter, Bri­tish fig­ures both real and imag­i­nary are as much of a draw as the coun­try’s land­marks and idyl­lic coun­try­side. Widely pub­li­cized vis­its from Chi­nese lead­ers also are thought to have an ef­fect on what Chi­nese vis­i­tors seek out.

“We are see­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of tourists from emerg­ing mar­kets such as China, par­tic­u­larly since (former premier Wen Ji­abao’s) visit to Shake­speare’s birth­place in 2011,” said Alisan Cole, PR ex­ec­u­tive for the Shake­speare Birth­place Trust, which over­sees vis­its to the Bard’s fam­ily homes in Strat­fordupon-Avon.

Smith calls Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s visit to the UK last year a “huge boost” to book­ings, not­ing that many vis­i­tor itin­er­ar­ies now di­rectly re­flect ac­tiv­i­ties Xi un­der­took while in the UK. Fish and chips and a pint is now a com­mon re­quest fol­low­ing the well-pub­li­cized pub visit by Xi and former UK prime min­is­ter David Cameron.

The hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is set to re­ceive a boost, too, with the weak pound, in­creas­ing both the num­ber of in­bound vis­i­tors and Bri­tons opt­ing for “stay­ca­tions” by re­main­ing within the coun­try’s bor­ders for sum­mer hol­i­days.

Stephen Cas­sidy, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for UK & Ire­land, Hil­ton World­wide, said the ho­tel chain is fo­cused on spe­cific steps to make the ris­ing num­bers of Chi­nese guests feel wel­come.

“The Hil­ton has its very own tai­lored pro­gram for Chi­nese trav­el­ers called Hil­ton Huany­ing, which takes its name from the Man­darin word for wel­come,” Cas­sidy said. “The scheme fo­cuses on three sig­na­ture hos­pi­tal­ity touch points — the ar­rival ex­pe­ri­ence, guest room ameni­ties and the break­fast ex­pe­ri­ence. From a spe­cial ‘ huany­ing greet­ing’ on ar­rival, to world class Chi­nese cui­sine and a Man­darin-trans­la­tion ser­vice.”

The wel­come pro­gram is avail­able at more than 130 Hil­ton ho­tels in 32 coun­tries and 80 ci­ties — in­clud­ing many of the com­pany’s UK lo­ca­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2014 Na­tions Brand In­dex Sur­vey, tai­lor­ing re­cep­tions for Chi­nese guests would greatly im­prove per­cep­tion of the UK among vis­i­tors. The sur­vey found the two ar­eas of rel­a­tive weak­ness for Bri­tain were per­cep­tions of “wel­come” and “nat­u­ral beauty.”

The sur­vey also found that Chi­nese vis­i­tors closely as­so­ci­ated the UK with mu­se­ums and that more Chi­nese vis­i­tors than the typ­i­cal in­bound trav­eler ex­pected a visit to Bri­tain to be ro­man­tic.

Con­tact the writer at an­gus@mail.chi­nadai­

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