As Chinese New Year approaches on February 5, the U.K. tourism market — as well as both domestic and travel retailers — are likely to see a significant boost from surging visitor numbers.
Forward flight booking data from ForwardKeys shows that trips from China to the U.K. are up 24 percent in the period from Wednesday January 30 to Tuesday February 12, compared to the equivalent period when Chinese New Year fell last year.
The seat analyst’s longer-term data shows an even stronger bookings scenario from China to the U.K. From January to June this year, bookings are up by 31 percent compared to the same period in 2018.
VisitBritain, the UK’s tourism body, is expecting 483,000 visits from China in 2019 overall, up 43 percent on 2017. It predicts Chinese visitors will spend more than £1 billion ($1.32 billion), up 50 percent, which will move China well into the U.K.’s 10 most important tourist markets.
According to VisitBritain, the U.K. is gearing up to host some of the largest celebrations outside Asia in the Year of the Pig. Events include three days of activities in Liverpool, parades in Manchester, festivals and performances in Birmingham and Leeds, a street parade from London’s Charing Cross to Chinatown, and the first ever Chinese New Year festival in Edinburgh.
Visitors from China are some of the U.K.’s highest spenders, splashing on average £2,059 ($2,709) during their visit, more than three times the all-market visitor average.
Building Chinese connections
Airports are also preparing for more Chinese travelers as they aim to capitalize on key events such as Chinese New Year. Last year Scotland’s busiest airport, Edinburgh, launched its first direct flight to China: to Beijing Capital International with Hainan Airlines. The four-weekly, year-round service is Scotland’s first connection to the Far East.
Edinburgh Airport CEO Gordon Dewar said: “We know Edinburgh is second only to London for Chinese tourists and we are eager to welcome more people to our fantastic capital city.”
London Heathrow, the main U.K. gateway to China, has a series of events laid on to welcome Chinese travelers in the coming weeks. It is celebrating Lunar New Year with a program ranging from horoscope readings and competitions to win flights to China’s holiday island of Sanya, to lion dances and Chinese folk dancing demonstrations at selected terminals. A Money God (the caishen) will also be roaming departure lounges, handing out red envelopes and other treats.
Strong brand presence
VisitBritain Director Patricia Yates said: “It is great to see forward bookings looking strong in the coming weeks and months from China, the world’s most valuable outbound market. We’re building on the growth we have seen, working with partners such as British Airways and Ctrip.”
British brand Peppa Pig has also made its mark in China and was recently named as a “super brand” by e-commerce giant Tmall in recognition of the character’s growing popularity.
Chinese perceptions of Britain as a visitor destination are strong. China ranked the U.K. second out of 50 nations for its overall brand in the 2018 Anholt Nation Brands Index, up two places from 2017. The U.K. was ranked highly for its vibrant cities and urban attractions.