Chinese tourists generate new source of growth for Britain

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-10-23 10:34:41

An increasing number of Chinese tourists have traveled to Britain over the past few years thanks to deepened bilateral ties, making significant contributions to the British economy.

The European country is expected to attract more Chinese visitors as President Xi Jinping's ongoing five-day state visit, the first by a Chinese head of state in a decade, has ushered in a "golden time" in China-Britain relations with common efforts.

Chinese tourists contribute to UK economy

In a flagship store of British luxury brand Burberry on London's Regent Street, Chinese retiree Liu Hailing, along with her seven other friends, was busy shopping on a plain weekend of early October.

For Western bargain-hunters, this is not a golden season, which traditionally falls in summer and Christmas holidays. But it is a superb opportunity for thousands of Chinese buyers, who spent their week-long National Day holiday in Britain as Liu and her friends did.

More and more British retailers have pinned Chinese tourists for great business opportunities by making full use of Chinese holidays such as the Spring Festival, National Day, Chinese Valentine's Day and Mid-autumn Festival.

Aside from big brands that have attracted Chinese holidaymakers, Britain' s varied history, sophisticated culture and beautiful landscapes, among others, all appeal to the Chinese people. It is the homeland of literary giant William Shakespeare and cradle of the Industrial Revolution.

As such, China has become one of Britain's fastest-growing tourism markets, as international visits from the Asian country have more than doubled over the past five years, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism agency.

"China is the world's largest outbound market and a huge tourism opportunity for Britain. Chinese visitors have very positive perceptions of Britain," VisitBritain CEO Sally Balcombe told Xinhua recently, saying they "stay longer here than in our European competitor destinations and are high spenders."

"Every 22 additional Chinese visitors we attract support an additional job in tourism," she added.

A latest report from her agency showed that the number of Chinese tourists to Britain in the first half of 2015 reached a record 90,000, up 28 percent from 2014. Tourism officials are expecting the total number of Chinese visitors to reach more than 200,000 this year.

Having become an important source of Britain's highest spending, each Chinese tourist spends an average of 2,688 pounds (about 4,149 US dollars), four times more than the average, the report said.

Over the years since 2009 to 2014, the total annual expenditure of Chinese visitors in Britain had soared by 326 percent to 497.47 million pounds (768.1 million dollars) according to the report.

"We aim to double the current annual expenditure in the UK by Chinese visitors to 1 billion pounds (about 1.5 billion dollars) a year within the next five years," Balcombe said.

Chinese visitors stay longer in Britain with an average holiday length of 10 nights compared with the average of six among all inbound visits, the VisitBritain report said.

They "make very detailed travel guides and request one or two days particularly for shopping, which means Chinese tourists are willing to spend more money while traveling," Wang Xiufu, manager of Elite UK Travel Ltd., a travel company for high-end Chinese customers, told Xinhua.

In addition, Chinese students studying in Britain have also contributed to the tourism industry, as they not only travel around the country themselves on holidays but also invite their parents or friends to come.

More than 150,000 Chinese students are studying in Britain, according to the Chinese embassy in London.

Britain urged to further loosen visa regime

To make Britain the most welcoming destination in Europe for Chinese tourists so as to boost its economy, the British government and the tourism industry have done quite some work.

Before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Britain in June 2014, the British government announced a series of steps to simplify the visa application process for Chinese visitors, including offering a 24-hour visa service and opening a new visa center in Beijing.

British tourism authorities launched a "China Welcome" campaign in early 2014, aiming to secure 650,000 Chinese visits annually by 2020.

On Dec. 3, 2014, VisitBritain staged a ten-week activity, encouraging the Chinese public to rename in Chinese famous places, tourist attractions across Britain. It reached around 300 million potential Chinese tourists via social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat in China. Up to 13,000 new names were suggested.

In June this year, Britain announced a pilot scheme to streamline the visa application process for Chinese visitors, enabling them to submit applications for both Britain and Belgium in a single visit to a British application center, and simplifying the process for British and Schengen visas.

In September, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said during his China visit that the British government would invest 700,000 pounds (about 1.08 million dollars) to attract more Chinese tourists to visit northern England, which is less economically developed than most other parts of Britain.

The government also granted 1.3 million pounds (2 million dollars) to VisitBritain for a two-month campaign in China, starting on Oct. 26, to invite Chinese visitors to share images of their own experiences on social media to inspire fellow travelers to visit Britain.

Despite the rapid growth of Chinese tourists and Britain's various efforts to woo them, alarming signs have emerged due to the still complicated visa application process.

The number of visits from China declined 7 percent from 200,340 in 2013 to 185,062 in 2014, said the aforementioned VisitBritain report.

"Visa issues really erode British strength in terms of attracting more foreign businesses, attracting talented people," Chinese Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming once said, voicing his wish that more progress would be made on the matter.

British officials and industry players have also warned that Britain could miss out on billions of pounds from Chinese tourists if it would not improve its visa application system.

Wang Xiufu, the travel agency manager, urged the British government to further loosen the visa regime and reduce application fees for Chinese visitors.

Xi's visit to bring more Chinese tourists

Xi's visit from Monday to Friday has ushered in a "golden time" in China-Britain ties to the expectations of both sides, and the two countries issued on Thursday a joint declaration on building a "global comprehensive strategic partnership for the 21st Century".

Fortified relations are set to further prompt people-to-people exchanges, which will significantly promote tourism in both countries.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron's office announced that from 2016 the validity of new visitor visas for Chinese tourists will be extended from six months to two years, which will bring "significant benefits to the UK economy."

This year is a "golden year" for the development of the Britain-China relationship and Xi's visit will usher bilateral relationship into a "golden era" Cameron said last month when he met Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong on the sidelines of the third meeting of the China-Britain mechanism for high-level cultural exchanges.

At the meeting, the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on holding annual talks between their tourist authorities to bolster strategic cooperation on tourism.

Britain is "enthusiastic" about developing its ties with China even further and making sure that next decade is a golden one, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Xinhua days ago, expecting "President Xi's visit will strengthen the relationships still further between Britain and China at the political level, at the economic level and at the people-to-people level."

On Thursday, Xi hailed that the essence of Chinese and British cultures has brought a fantastic "chemical reaction" into their own people's way of thinking and lifestyle through people-to-people exchanges.

"The state visit of the President of China Xi Jinping this week, and the accompanying international media exposure and visibility, is a fantastic opportunity for us to inspire more international visitors from China to come and explore all the nations and regions of Britain," Balcombe told Xinhua ahead of the visit.

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