The United Kingdom continues to illustrate why it’s one of the most important destinations to follow in order to understand patterns of outbound Chinese tourism. It’s an expensive, distant destination that is only available to the wealthiest Chinese travelers. That’s why the fact that Chinese arrivals to the UK are up almost 50 percent in Q1 and Q2 compared to last year is big news.
Terrorism and political instability had a depressive effect on Chinese travel to the UK in 2016, but arrivals have rebounded and surpassed the highs of 2015. Sustainability is a crucial issue here. Fundamentally, the boom in Chinese travel is due in large part to a weaker, post-Brexit pound.
Spending by Chinese travelers is also up in a big way, stripping past the decreased value of the pound. Compared to Q1 and Q2 2016, spending is up 54 percent in 2017.
It’s important to remember that even with the exponential growth of Chinese travel to Britain, the UK still lags well-behind other destinations in Europe. Britain’s best year for Chinese travel, 2015, saw 270,000 Chinese arrivals.
In contrast, France, the tourism juggernaut of Europe, saw some 2.2 million Chinese arrivals in 2015. Even the Czech Republic surpasses Britain. 285,000 Chinese tourists traveled to the Czech Republic in 2015, and 355,000 visited in 2016.
Britain is still at a distinct disadvantage compared to other European destinations because Chinese citizens need a specific visa for entry into Britain. However, a Chinese visitor will only need one visa to visit any Schengen Area Members, including France, the Czech Republic, Germany, etc., making a stop in Britain on a European tour substantially more troublesome.
What this means is that the weaker post-Brexit pound has allowed Britain some breathing room to catch up with its European competitors, but Britain will still need to reorient marketing and visa policy to maintain growth in tourist revenue.
Nonetheless, more arrivals is always a good thing for tourist revenue, and this boom in visitors is a unique opportunity for Britain to market itself to Chinese consumers and encourage repeat visits and positive PR via word of mouth even after the pound regains value.
Traditionally, Q3 is when the most substantial number of Chinese travelers come to Britain, mainly because of vacation opportunities like China’s Golden Week. With this year’s Golden Week being a record-breaker, it’s very likely that growth in Chinese tourism and spending in the UK will be substantially higher than these latest figures indicate.
It’s clear that British firms are taking notice of the potential for Chinese spending to boost revenues, both within and outside of the tourism industry. The first-ever Best of British show is set to kick-off in Shanghai on October 19. The event centers around British goods and services, with a clear luxury focus.
However, the headline sponsor is British Airways and Visit Britain is an event partner as well. Because the price of transit to Britain from China is so high and average incomes in China are so low, Chinese travel to Britain can very well classify as a “luxury” that is simply out of reach for the vast majority of Chinese citizens.
This is perhaps the most significant reason why Chinese tourism to Britain has such significant implications for other, relatively expensive, Western destinations. If Britain can maintain visitor numbers with marketing efforts after the pound recovers more value, then the country can provide valuable lessons to other more expensive or even more “luxurious” destinations on how to cater to the Chinese market.