With a new simplified visa process, the UK is expected to welcome more Chinese visitors. Peter Ducker FIH, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality, explores how operators can best serve this growing market.
The recent easing of visa restrictions to encourage more Chinese visitors to the UK is to be welcomed. Most tourism and retail operators would agree these changes are long overdue. To date, the UK’s share of high-spending Chinese tourism has been tiny. The EU welcomed more than one million Chinese visitors last year compared to just 215,000 who came to the UK. Currently around 90% of Chinese tour groups omit Britain from their European trips, resulting in £1.2bn of lost revenue each year, according to research published by the UK China Visa Alliance.
Making it easier for the Chinese to visit Britain undoubtedly makes economic sense. The Chinese will make up 20% of the world’s foreign tourists by 2023, says a report by Amadeus, and the number of Chinese families able to afford overseas holidays will double in the next 10 years.
So, once they are here, what are we doing to make the best possible impression and ensure they spread the word back home? Do we provide Chinese signage at Heathrow?
I do not recall seeing any. Are there leaflets in Chinese on how to catch a bus or train or explain that they can take the underground directly into central London?
Although China is a vast country, there are some generalised preferences that hoteliers can bear in mind in order to keep their Chinese guests happy and comfortable. Language is ranked very highly by Chinese tourists, therefore UK hoteliers might consider employing Mandarin-speaking staff. Hoteliers can also display cultural sensitivity by assigning rooms ending with ‘8’ whenever possible (denoting fortune and prosperity) and avoiding room numbers with ‘4’ (associated with death).
Anecdotal evidence reveals the Chinese love the UK’s history, sense of humour and scenery. They like the transport but believe it is very expensive; they dislike the weather, but there’s not much we can do about that. Their other complaint is the food – after about three days of eating British food they require a fix of a real Chinese meal, and not a western version of it. Many Chinese do not drink alcohol so having a good range of non-alcoholic beverages is advisable.
The Chinese love visiting our historic towns and cities such as Bath, Oxford and York, just like tourists from all over the world, but not always for the same reasons. They come to Cambridge, for example, to visit the colleges and go punting on the Cam. But most of all they come to visit an inscribed stone placed in the grounds of King’s College that will mean nothing to non-Chinese. It reads (in Chinese): “Gently I’m leaving, just like I gently came,” a line from ‘A second farewell to Cambridge,’ a poem taught to every child in China, written by Xu Zhimo, China’s most popular modernist poet. He studied at King’s College in the 1920s and went on to become a Chinese icon.
In the coming years, there are likely to be massive opportunities in the development of Chinese group tours. Innovative hoteliers and tour operators will want to do their research to gain a greater understanding of Chinese culture, needs and desires.