Ctrip is reporting a 100 percent increase of its users traveling to Britain in 2017. Photo: Shutterstock

A new report from the Chinese online travel agency (OTA) Ctrip indicates that the number of Chinese tourists traveling to Britain who booked via the platform doubled in 2017 over 2016. More than 60,000 Chinese tourists booked trips to Britain with Ctrip in 2016.

The number of Ctrip users traveling to Britain doubled in 2017

42 percent of these tourists traveled with tour groups, with the remaining 58 percent traveling independently.

This record year in Chinese tourism for Britain was buoyed by several key factors, with the devalued pound following Brexit being the most significant. However, increased connectivity between China and Britain, with more direct flights and an open skies agreement, also significantly facilitated Chinese travel to the UK and helped drive growth.

The record growth in Chinese tourism to the UK was driven by a cheaper pound and more direct flights

While this is certainly encouraging data for Britain, which will be more dependent on tourism dollars than ever before with the economic uncertainty of Brexit, this information is limited and a release of the full numbers of Chinese tourism to the UK in 2017 has yet to be released and these numbers are solely based on Ctrip bookings.

One important takeaway from this data is how more and more Chinese tourists are choosing to travel independently. While tour groups can certainly bring in a lot of tourist revenue to a destination, tour group travelers spend less per capita than their independent counterparts.

Nonetheless, doubts still remain about the long-term viability of growth of Chinese tourism to the UK. Much of 2017’s growth was driven by a weaker pound, which inevitably will recover much of its value. Already, some British duty-free retailers are reporting drops in sales from the highs of 2017 and 2016.

With the pound in recovery, some British retailers are reporting a loss in sales

Even with the surge of Chinese travelers in 2017, Britain will have to capitalize on this by offering more than just a cheaper travel experience. Flight connectivity will help buoy numbers, but the UK is still playing catch up with other major European destinations, particularly France.

Britain’s best year for Chinese travel, 2015, saw 270,000 arrivals. France, on the other hand, attracted 2.2 million Chinese tourists in the same year. Part of Britain’s challenge in attracting Chinese tourists is due to the country’s lack of participation in the Schengen Area. Passport controls between the 26 members states of the Schengen area have been abolished. So, for example, a visa for travel to France or Italy is usable in Germany or Spain.

Brexit may exacerbate Britain’s competitive disadvantages with other European destinations

Because of this, for a wider European tour, Chinese tourists have to get multiple visas if they want to travel to Britain and to Schengen destinations. Brexit will likely only make this more challenging.