Spend­ing big on the ‘duke ex­pe­ri­ence’

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

For years the im­age of the Chi­nese vis­i­tors to Bri­tain has been linked with the tour bus. Groups of up to 60 are fer­ried around, spend­ing no more than a few hours at iconic sites, from the Houses of Par­lia­ment to the fa­bled North­ern wa­ter­ways that in­spired Chi­ang Yee’s A Chi­nese Artist in Lake­land.

Bus tours still dom­i­nate in­bound Chi­nese tourism in Bri­tain, as most are first­timers look­ing for value and the com­fort and con­ve­nience of Man­darin-speak­ing guides with lo­cal knowl­edge.

How­ever, as the Chi­nese be­come richer and more well­trav­eled, in­creas­ing num­bers of pri­vate groups are head­ing to Bri­tain — many for the sec­ond or third time — and some have a lot of money to spend.

“These are the kinds of peo­ple that say, ‘In Italy, we can do din­ner at the Vat­i­can — what can you do to match that?’ So I phone up Wind­sor and ask if we can do din­ner at Wind­sor Cas­tle,” said Jim Dixon, di­rec­tor of UK Coun­try­side Tours, as he re­called one vis­i­tor’s re­quest.

For the right price, any­thing is pos­si­ble, he said, and pop­u­lar de­mands of­ten fall un­der what he calls the “liv­ing like a Duke” ex­pe­ri­ence.

The lives of Bri­tish no­bil­ity have long in­trigued for­eign vis­i­tors as well as fans of pe­riod dra­mas, such as adap­ta­tions of Jane Austen nov­els or Down­ton Abbey.

Jay Smith, manag­ing di­rec­tor of Bei­wei 55, a Bri­tish tour op­er­a­tor that of­fers Man­darin-speak­ing guides, said more Chi­nese vis­i­tors are look­ing for the Bri­tish lord and lady ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Shoot­ing and hunt­ing is some­thing we have had in the past,” he said. “An in­quiry we had rel­a­tively re­cently was for a coun­try house tour, to meet the own­ers, dis­cuss how they run their es­tate, how they make money, how they came into that land.”

Dixon said that at the pre­mium level Chi­nese trav­el­ers may ar­rive at Lon­don’s land­mark lux­ury ho­tel The Dorch­ester and dine at one of its restau­rants, such as China Tang, which has three Miche­lin stars. They may then go on to have the “Duke’s Lon­don ex­pe­ri­ence”, hit­ting small, be­spoke shops af­ter hours where Bri­tish no­bil­ity buy their clothes and hunt­ing gear.

Vis­i­tors may then hop on a he­li­copter and fly up to Chatsworth House in Der­byshire, the op­u­lent res­i­dence of the Duke of Devon­shire used as a lo­ca­tion for films in­clud­ing Pride and Prej­u­dice in 2005 and The Duchess in 2008. There, they will dine with the duke, if he is avail­able, in a room lined with price­less art.

The cost? With­out bar­ing all, Dixon said, “din­ner is £20,000 ($26,200) be­fore you throw in the he­li­copters and all the rest of it”.

... they are com­ing back a sec­ond time, and they are af­ter some­thing a lit­tle bit more unique.”

busi­ness de­vel­op­ment ex­ec­u­tive at Manch­ester United Mu­seum and Sta­dium Tour

Cheaper al­ter­na­tives in­clude stay­ing at coun­try es­tates like Wed­der­burn Cas­tle in Scot­land or Had­don Hall in Der­byshire, he added.

“Bed and break­fast starts at £3,500 a night,” he said of the Scot­tish cas­tle. “When you walk in, there are muddy boots, the gillies are ready to take you fish­ing, and the food is tra­di­tional Scot­tish fine din­ing: lamb and wild salmon.”

Coun­try es­tates will of­ten pro­vide Chi­nese in­ter­preters, and Had­don Hall will soon show Man­darin Jane, a the­atri­cal per­for­mance based on Char­lotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre nar­rated in Man­darin. The res­i­dence has a strong claim as the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the book’s Thorn­field Hall.

In Manch­ester, while large Chi­nese tour groups file around Manch­ester United’s Old Traf­ford sta­dium and mu­seum dur­ing the day, the more dis­cern­ing Chi­nese vis­i­tors will wait for night­fall, when the red car­pet is rolled out. This may in­clude a cham­pagne re­cep­tion, putting on a pair of David Beck­ham’s boots, get­ting coached “by a leg­end” or eat­ing din­ner with a former player.

“There are cer­tain peo­ple who can pay the bill for the elec­tric­ity to stay on at night, for the cater­ing team, the bar staff and the tour guides to stay late, to bring in an ex­player, to open up cer­tain parts of Old Traf­ford and its mu­seum — cer­tain peo­ple can pay for that,” said Ja­son Leach, busi­ness de­vel­op­ment ex­ec­u­tive at Manch­ester United Mu­seum and Sta­dium Tour.

Leach said bus tours are still com­mon­place, al­though re­quests from Chi­nese for a be­spoke ex­pe­ri­ence have quickly picked up. In the past year he cracked open the cham­pagne for eight groups of Chi­nese VIPs. “We have no­ticed over the past few years a slight change: Peo­ple may well have been to the UK be­fore, but they are com­ing back a sec­ond time, and they are af­ter some­thing a lit­tle bit more unique,” Leach said.

“It is not some­thing we ad­ver­tise on our web­site, nei­ther the English nor the Man­darin web­site has any promo stuff on it. It re­ally is a case of the ques­tion need­ing to be asked. It might cost them the price of a hol­i­day again, but they can af­ford it.”


Chi­nese vis­i­tors tour the grounds of Chatsworth House in Der­byshire, the stately home and seat of the Duke of Devon­shire.

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