The United Kingdom is experiencing significant success in the Chinese tourism market. Last year, Chinese visits increased by 29 percent to reach a total of 337,000, and spending grew by an even more impressive 35 percent to reach $900 million. But that doesn’t mean that VisitBritain, the country’s national tourism agency, is satisfied just yet—rather the opposite. After entering a £3 million ($3.9 million) marketing partnership with Chinese online travel agency (OTA) Ctrip earlier this year, the organization is now vying for a £6 million ($7.8 million) marketing partnership with a Chinese airline.
In a tender published by the British Tourist Authority, VisitBritain outlines the type of partnership it’s looking for in the Chinese market. According to the tender specifications, the organization is hoping to find an airline with a market presence in China to promote travel in the United Kingdom to Chinese consumers. The organization requires that the airline is “an established brand in China with a solid reputation and substantial market share air travel [sic.] to Britain.” The duration of the partnership would be two and a half years and would cost UK taxpayers a total of £6 million ($7.8 million).
The tender bears significant similarities to a tender issued by the organization earlier this year, where it advertised for “an OTA partner un China [sic.] to work with during 2018 through 2020 to encourage Chinese consumers to travel to Britain.” This tender, worth £3 million ($3.9 million), was awarded to China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip.
Similar to the project which was awarded to Ctrip, the requirements narrow it down to only a handful of potential bidders, e.g., Air China, China Eastern Airlines, and China Southern Airlines.
So far, however, it seems like VisitBritain has struggled to generate much interest (or many viable bids) from China’s airlines. The organization has repeatedly reissued the same tender since May of this year and no winners have been announced.
The tenders reveal part of VisitBritain’s strategy in maintaining momentum in the Chinese market for the next few years, namely long-term marketing campaigns through established Chinese partners—whether they’re online travel agencies (OTAs) like Ctrip, or major state-owned airlines.
But that’s not to say that VisitBritain is shunning smaller campaigns or partners in the Chinese market. Among other campaigns it has recently undertaken are partnering with the Chinese tech company Huawei for the Honor 10 smartphone launch, a month-long campaign in China together with British Airways, and a campaign with Xiami Music to target Chinese millennials.
It makes sense for VisitBritain to embark on multi-million-pound partnerships and campaigns in China. Even just a single-digit increase in Chinese visitors means millions in added tourist spending. That’s good for the United Kingdom’s tourism industry, the UK economy, and, ultimately, for UK taxpayers.