Game-changing manifesto urges UK government to act now or lose China tourism opportunity for good

The UK has a window of no more than six months to “get back in the game” of attracting the massive Chinese tourism market “or risk losing out to European rivals Italy and France forever”, according to Jason Yap, Travelzoo Asia-Pacific’s CEO.   Furthermore, if the UK is to reach Chinese consumers, who are currently planning their October National Day holidays and Chinese New Year trips, it must act now to promote the UK’s tourism assets or risk losing another ‘tourism year’ to European rivals.

Countries including France and Italy have completely overtaken the UK in terms of Chinese arrival figures. The Asia chief of the global deals publisher warns that if the UK doesn’t make changes within the next six months, it risks being largely excluded in benefitting from the projected £2 billion spend from Chinese travellers over the next 12 months.

This week, the immigration minister Mark Harper said that the UK visa process was not a barrier for Chinese travellers and that the UK travel industry should “stop knocking the UK offer”.  In response, Yap has issued a manifesto to the UK Government on how to attract Chinese travellers.

Yap said, “The comments from the Home Office about there being a ‘misconception’ that Chinese visitors struggle to obtain a UK visa have prompted us to share our knowledge from our privileged position as a publisher of global travel deals in China.  The visa process is too complicated and laborious for Chinese tourists and the UK isn’t offering good enough packages to beat key European competitors such as France, Italy and Switzerland.  Mr. Harper said that he’s open to ideas and clearly he is keen to improve the current offering.  As a self-confessed ‘Britophile’, I want to make sure we can inspire more Chinese travellers to experience all the UK has to offer.”

“The UK cannot rest on its laurels and just hope that visitors will come.  When you consider that a 25% growth in visitors from China to the UK brought in an estimated additional £300 million to the UK economy in 2012, there is the potential for an inbound tourism bonanza.   The UK is languishing under the 200,000 mark compared to its closest neighbour and tourism rival, France, with 1.15 million visitors in 2012.  These figures represent a drop in the ocean relative to the potential total Chinese market.”

Travelzoo Asia’s ‘lucky eight’* steps to winning over the Chinese traveller

  • Join the Schengen scheme – The Home Office insists it is not possible, citing border safety as the excuse, but if 26 European nations have managed it, it seems like a simple add-on solution.
  • Allow the visa application forms to be completed in Chinese – If Brits were required to apply in Chinese for a visa to China, it would seriously curtail the number of would-be tourists. It’s exactly the same for Chinese travellers, many of whom cannot write in English.  The Schengen visa can be applied for in Chinese and it makes the process much simpler for tourists.
  • Create multi destination itineraries (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) – When promoting the country, the UK also needs to find a way to counter the Chinese desire for ‘one trip, three destinations’ versus ‘one trip, one destination.’  To put this in context, Chinese typically only have two major holidays per year - over Chinese New Year and the National Day holiday.  It is ingrained in the Chinese psyche that a long-haul trip should be maximized to include more than one destination.  In reality, when Chinese experience the perceived perfect European holiday combining France, Italy and Switzerland, they rarely venture beyond Paris, Rome/Florence and Lucerne/Zurich.  The UK should look at promoting England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and, within that, key areas such as London, Edinburgh and the Cotswolds or Pembrokeshire to show that one trip to the UK has many elements.
  • Market ‘heritage trails’ of the UK’s educational institutions – Iconic academic institutions such as Eton, Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge are famous in China and, as a result of the one-child policy, wealthy parents of Chinese children will spare no expense in seeking the best education for their offspring.  The UK holds a unique position as the seat of the English language (Chinese view American English as less aspirational) and also as the global pinnacle of academia with its world-famous institutions.  These assets are not being sufficiently marketed across China as part of the tourism offering.
  • Create driving route trips with car-hire companies – Car ownership has only been commercialised in China recently and it is still predominantly the preserve of the very wealthy.  Given that the country’s car culture is relatively new in China, Chinese travellers are very keen on road trips.  Australia is a great example of a destination that Chinese tourists have embraced and self-drive deals are always a hit for us at Travelzoo China.  It seems natural to deduce that similar opportunities abound in the UK.
  • Be fashion forward – The emerging middle classes in China are dedicated followers of fashion and shopping destinations such as Bicester Village have done a brilliant job of engaging with Chinese travellers.  The UK’s vibrant fashion scene, designers and world-class shopping hubs are still less well-known than European equivalents, however the UK easily has as much to offer and shopping tours are a natural next step. 
  • Export some of the UK’s rich culture via TV, sports, film and music – The UK should put in place an integrated campaign where the vibrant culture of the UK is ‘exported’ to China.  This is possible using positive brand ambassadors, targeted and localised advertising campaigns, film, TV, sport and music, combined with a concerted effort to work with Chinese tour operators to put together itineraries that appeal specifically to the Chinese mindset.  David Beckham has recently been appointed the first ever football ambassador in China, which is great news - how is the UK government planning to expand on that opportunity?
  • Set up dynamic training programmes – So many tour operators in China do not fully understand what is on offer in the UK and they would certainly benefit from some in-depth education on the wider spectrum of the UK’s attributes. publishes the best travel and leisure deals in the UK and publishes the best travel deals in China


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