Brexit cash­ing in

Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union is al­ready gen­er­at­ing signs of a com­ing boom in Chi­nese trav­el­ers who like to shop abroad, An­gus McNe­ice re­ports in Lon­don.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at an­gus@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com

Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union is al­ready gen­er­at­ing signs of a com­ing boom in Chi­nese trav­el­ers who like to shop abroad for good deals.

The tourism in­dus­try and re­tail­ers are ready­ing for a sharp up­turn in the num­ber of Chi­nese vis­i­tors to postBrexit Bri­tain starting with this sum­mer’s tourist sea­son. Travel sites re­ported Chi­nese searches for UK hol­i­days shot up as the pound tum­bled fol­low­ing the vote on EU mem­ber­ship on June 23.

“On our web­site, the num­ber of con­sumers ask­ing about Bri­tish tourism in­creased rapidly af­ter the ref­er­en­dum,” Shi Yud­uan, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer at the Chi­nese travel site Ctrip said. “Searches on our app about Bri­tish tourism routes have dou­bled.”

Jay Smith, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Bei­wei 55, a UK tour op­er­a­tor that of­fers Man­darin-speak­ing Bri­tish guides, re­ports a “large spike” in in­quiries in the weeks af­ter the ref­er­en­dum.

“Some guests were quite ex­plicit: they wanted to book now while the pound was low,” he said.

The weak­ened euro will also re­sult in in­creased travel to other Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions, ac­cord­ing to Hu Hui, di­rec­tor of re­search and de­vel­op­ment at the Chi­nese travel agency Caissa.

“The cheaper pound and euro brought on by the ref­er­en­dum will in the short term be an in­cen­tive for Chi­nese trav­el­ers going to Bri­tain,” he said. “It will re­duce the cost of out­bound tourism and in­crease tourists’ in­ter­est in trav­el­ing and shop­ping in des­ti­na­tion coun­tries. If the ex­change rates stay like this, I think our travel busi­ness to Europe will in­crease by about 15 to 20 per­cent.”

How­ever, there is con­cern, that re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tacks in France and Ger­many will neg­a­tively af­fect the coun­tries’ tourism in­dus­tries — an­a­lysts spec­u­late many tourists may choose to go else­where in Europe due to se­cu­rity con­cerns.

France is the world’s top tourist des­ti­na­tion, wel­com­ing 85.4 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors last year, ac­cord­ing to Rochelle Turner, re­search di­rec­tor at the World Travel & Tourism Coun­cil.

“(France) has strug­gled with too many of these ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the past months and it will suf­fer in the short term as trav­el­ers, who, as a whole — like peo­ple gen­er­ally — are risk averse, de­cide to choose other des­ti­na­tions for their hol­i­days,” Turner said.

Al­ter­na­tive des­ti­na­tions may in­clude the UK, which is now al­most a tenth cheaper than it was last year. That is a big in­cen­tive for Chi­nese trav­el­ers, for whom shop­ping is an es­sen­tial part of a visit to the Bri­tish Isles. Bices­ter Vil­lage, the out­let shop­ping cen­ter in Ox­ford­shire, is the sec­ond most vis­ited lo­ca­tion in the UK for Chi­nese vis­i­tors, be­hind Buck­ing­ham Palace.

Forty per­cent of Chi­nese tourists 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.

KEVIN COOMBS / REUTERS

The cheaper pound and euro brought on by the ref­er­en­dum will in the short term be an in­cen­tive for Chi­nese trav­el­ers going to Bri­tain.

CHINA DAILY IAN DAISLEY / FOR

Chi­nese tourists in­spect an­i­mals at Chatsworth House’s farm­yard.

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