The ‘red carpet’ treatment for Chinese tourists to the UK

The ‘red carpet’ treatment for Chinese tourists to the UK

With businesses across the UK urged to make cultural adjustments to welcome Chinese visitors, Teresa Hou has just signed up her 10-year-old son for a 15-day trip to visit prestigious universities in Britain during the upcoming winter holiday. The 36-year-old from Beijing hopes the trip will motivate her child to study hard to one day be admitted to one of the top universities.

The 15-day trip costs around £4000 but despite the high price, Hou says it’s worth it, not only as an educational trip, but also for a sightseeing experience that she hopes will expand her son's horizons.

Thanks to China's growing middle class and their increased disposable incomes, more Chinese are traveling abroad for sightseeing and of course, shopping. This makes the Chinese one of the fastest-growing groups of tourists in the world.

Every country wants to take advantage of this opportunity and the UK is (almost) no different. Despite the ongoing visa application problems, the UK tourism industry has set a goal of making the UK one of the most welcoming destinations for Chinese tourists in Europe. One strategy has been to promote travel in and around Britain. But the industry acknowledges that there is still much to do to cater to the growing sophistication of Chinese travellers.

It is, in fact one of the top global destinations for culture, heritage, countryside, shopping, music, sports and food, but the visa restrictions put it at a massive disadvantage compared to Paris and Milan for example.

The number of Chinese tourists in the UK has grown steadily in recent years. In 2013, there were 196,000 visits from China to Britain, an increase of 9.7 percent, generating spending of £491.7 million, up 63.8 percent year-on-year (Source: Visit Britain)

In 2013 VisitBritain launched a campaign called the Great China Welcome, with a target to attract 650,000 Chinese visits to the UK a year by 2020, worth about £1.1 billion annually to the UK economy.

While trying to encourage more British hotels, restaurants, attractions and other hospitality businesses to ‘think China’, and help Chinese visitors find them more easily, there remains some kind of sicking-point in fully understanding and exploiting this potential market. We need to be much more ‘China friendly’ and make sure that every Chinese visitor to Britain has the best possible experience.

Interestingly, not all tourists stick to a single city when they visit. They like multi-destination trips to get the most out of their trip. Making this easier for Chinese visitors and having a better understanding of them is where we can make a huge difference. It’s vital to provide information in Chinese and meet Chinese people's cultural needs.

Market research is key and working with partners who already have some experience of successfully attracting Chinese visitors will give any business a head start. Providing printed, online or audio information to visitors in Mandarin or Cantonese, providing Chinese food, training their staff to meet cultural needs and expectations of Chinese visitors will ensure that Chinese visitors can feel more relaxed.

It’s also worth noting that Mandarin is now one of the top three languages taught in most schools in the UK.  Mandarin-speaking staff are a major asset when dealing with Chinese consumers. Some big department stores have launched Chinese-language apps, offering Chinese tourists store guides, restaurant menus and event details.

Even UK Visas & Immigration is trying to make entry easier for Chinese tourists. This is crucial. In 2013, 96 percent of Chinese who applied for a UK visa got one. But, while the average processing time for non-settlement visas was less than seven days; eight days quicker than the 15-day service standard but compared to 24 hours for Schengen countries still pretty discouraging.

In July, the Home Office announced improvements to the visa system in China, including a 24-hour visa service; the expansion of mobile identification systems using biometrics, or physical characteristics like fingerprints; and a new service enabling customers to apply for the British and Schengen visa at the same time. So, while it’s now easier to apply for a UK visa, we are still losing out to the rest of Europe.

Okhiwi Media is working with a number of partners both in the UK and in mainland China on some very exciting projects for 2015. This will help businesses understand the cultural differences, take full advantage of the potentially huge market and importantly, to demonstrate to the Chinese what a fantastic country Great Britain is to visit.

Okhiwi Media – we’re here to help you realise your potential.

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