What will the EU-China Tourism Year bring?

What will the EU-China Tourism Year bring?

An exciting opportunity for European tour operators is on our doorstep. How should we prepare for Europe’s improved collaboration with the Chinese travel market?

It’s finally here, and it’s about time

There has been an Australia-China year of tourism, as well as a US-China year, but finally it is the turn of Europe. Are they just gimmicks, or do they make a real difference?

In what has been an eventful year for Chinese tourism, upcoming international partnerships, such as the EU-China Tourism Year, will help to further promote growth in Chinese outbound tourist numbers.

The EU-China Tourism Year is an official declaration given to the promotion of bilateral cooperation between European countries and China, which will occur throughout 2018. It presents an exciting opportunity for European tourism businesses and operators looking to expand their operations in the Chinese outbound travel market to promote their brand on a global scale and seek new partnerships. The first series of business-to-business talks brought about by the ECTY will take place at Beijing’s China Outbound Travel & Tourism Market in April 2018.

Reported figures vary, but the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) found that Chinese outbound tourism grew by 7% in the first half of 2017, from 64 million in 2016 to 69 million. This shows that Chinese tourists are travelling further afield. Indeed, while tourism to the Greater China region only grew by 1%, the rest of the world saw 14% more Chinese outbound travellers visiting their shores in the first half of 2017.

The potential benefits that the ECTY could bring to European travel and tourism companies complements the exciting predictions about the Chinese outbound travel market in 2018. COTRI estimates that the number of Chinese tourists travelling to destinations outside of Greater China will rise by 10% next year to 86 million. If correct, Chinese travel to destinations outside of Greater China will then hold the majority in the market, representing 56% of overall trips made.

As such, the ECTY seems to be happening at the right time. The Chinese outbound tourism market is increasingly becoming dominated by free and independent travellers (FITs), who are willing to forge their own adventures to discover authentic experiences, unlike their organised group travel equivalents. This has opened-up new opportunities in the market to appeal to this rising subsection of outbound travellers. Furthermore, relaxed visa restrictions, more direct flight connections, and the opening of visa application centres shows European countries are becoming flexible to deal with the expanding Chinese travel market.

Make the effort

Europe should grasp the opportunity to welcome more Chinese tourists with open arms. Driven by the rise of middle-class households, China has become the largest source of tourism expenditure, which is expected to grow by 10.9% from 2017 to 2022. A lot of their money is spent in duty-free shops. Recent figures show that 41% of Chinese travellers buy skincare-related products in duty-free and travel-retail, compared with 25% for the average global buyer.

Increased cooperation with China has already helped improve visitor rates at British attractions. In June, Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) announced they received a 74% increase year-on-year in Chinese visitors. Following the efforts made in marketing their museums in China and improving their “China welcome”, RMG’s dedication to attracting the Chinese market was recognised at ITB China in Shanghai, where they were awarded a Chinese Tourist Welcome Award for Service Quality.

Be more like Switzerland

The ECTY won’t mark the first time Europe and China has formed an alliance to promote tourism. The ECTY will succeed 2017’s China-Switzerland Year of Tourism, which demonstrated an increased effort by both parties to further encourage overseas travel. Both countries encouraged bilateral communication and cooperation through exchange activities that enhanced mutual understanding of each country’s culture, economy, and trade.

In 2015, China became the fourth largest outbound tourist market for Switzerland, behind Germany, the US, and the UK. Switzerland’s Deputy Head of Mission Alain Gaschen suggests improved China outbound travel was due to relaxed visa restrictions, which encouraged the widespread issuing of long-term and multi-entry visas. Switzerland has also made it convenient for Chinese tourists to obtain visas, with a quick-visa approval process that takes only two days.

The China-Switzerland Year of Tourism recently held its closing ceremony in Lausanne, which is due to host the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. Since China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, bilateral cooperation in the winter sports market was beneficial. As a result, the Swiss have been developing their ski resorts to become more accommodating of Chinese tourists by providing one-off experience days catered to beginners and lessons in Chinese.

This collaboration has delivered benefits for future EU-China cooperation. Reportedly, a Chinese tourism official claimed 2017 saw 1.2 million two-way visits between China and Switzerland, an increase of 12% from 2016. Air China recently launched a new service from Beijing to Zurich, which marks Air China’s first flight to the Swiss city since the service was initially discontinued in 1999. Likewise, the number of flights connecting China and Switzerland has increased to forty per week.

Early ECTY-related collaborations have begun between China and Italy, where the ECTY will hold its opening ceremony, in Venice, on the 19th of January. Italy’s Undersecretary of MiBACT Dorina Bianchi hopes this relationship will help promote not only Italy’s “cities of art”, but also the “historical heritage” of its villages. Italy is one of many European countries seeking more potential from the Chinese market, as in the first half of 2017, it evidenced a 15% increase in the number of Chinese visitors compared to 2016.

Put yourself out there

The UK should make the most of the ECTY by capitalising on its opportunities as soon as possible. This is especially considering recent developments which have made the UK more accessible for Chinese tourists.

The recent announcement of an open skies agreements between China and the UK aims to increase connecting flights by 50% to 150 flights per week. In addition, Britain’s north witnessed a 15% rise in Chinese arrival numbers than anticipated this year, with 90,000 passengers travelling from Beijing to Manchester. Chinese visitors are also spending more than ever, specifically an increase of 54% in 2017, largely due to the post-Brexit depreciation of the pound. These are promising developments for the UK inbound tourism market that demonstrate the appeal of attracting more Chinese visitors.

Why would Chinese tourists want to visit the UK?

Football crazy, football mad

The UK remains an appealing destination for Chinese travellers for a plethora of reasons, and sport is certainly a key factor. Alongside China’s desire to convert 300 million Chinese people to winter sports in anticipation of the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, it is also pushing to become a world football superpower by 2050. It hopes to have 50 million football players by 2020, as well as 6,000 stadiums or pitches and 50,000 football schools within the next 10 years.

British football is internationally renowned for its world-class teams, and football is already hugely popular in China. More than 350 million Chinese fans watch Premier League games on dedicated football television channels. Indeed, football is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s favourite sport – in 2012, he demonstrated his skills during a state visit to Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, and he visited Manchester City during his last state visit to the UK in 2015. As the home of international football, Britain is an attractive destination for Chinese football enthusiasts.

Glued to the screen

Certain British television shows are hugely popular in China. Research into the influence of foreign entertainment on Chinese youth, conducted by Singapore Management University, found the majority of Chinese television viewers were in favour of a more authentic TV approach, compared to the “predictable plotlines” and “unambiguous characters” found in China’s TV shows.

As such, the hit BBC drama Sherlock was a phenomenon; in 2014, 5 million Chinese viewers watched the Season Three premiere within hours of being uploaded to video platform Youku, the Chinese alternative to YouTube. Furthermore, in 2016, Sherlock’s ‘Abominable Bride’ TV special was screened internationally across China, attracting 1.7 million cinemagoers to its premiere.

As Sherlock builds upon a “Chinese fondness for a storybook version of Britain”, it’s not a stretch to claim many enthusiastic Chinese fans may visit London to see famous landmarks featured on the show, such as the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul’s provides Chinese visitors with multimedia guides in Mandarin, making this attraction highly accessible. There is also a Sherlock Holmes Museum in London’s Baker Street, which will be the main draw for many enthusiastic Chinese fans.

While an American production, many scenes in Game of Thrones are filmed in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is expecting over 2.3 million visitors next year due to the emerging Chinese market. The Giant’s Causeway welcomed 56,000 Chinese tourists in 2017, 22% more than previous years.

There are other cases where China’s appreciation of England’s cultural heritage shines through. Castle Howard, occasionally used as a setting for historical dramas, such as ITV’s Victoria, saw 250,000 visitors in 2016, and a 256% year-on-year increase of international visitors. Furthermore, the marriage between Taiwanese megastar Jay Chou and Australian model Hannah Quinlivan at Selby Abbey attracted “no fewer than 500 Asian visitors” in the ten days following the event.

Dover Castle has also appeared in a variety of high-profile Hollywood and television productions, from Disney’s fantasy musical Into the Woods, to the BBC’s historical drama Wolf Hall. According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), Dover Castle welcomed 333,289 visitors in 2016 – an increase over the previous year. It seems heritage sites featured in popular movies and TV shows remain motivators for Chinese travel to the UK.

The Royal Family is England’s crown jewel

Obviously, we can’t ignore that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Royal Wedding next May will bring an influx of international tourists to Windsor Castle, and the UK in particular. The UK witnessed a ‘tourism boom’ in 2011, welcoming 30.6 million overseas visitors, primarily thanks to the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Reportedly, “almost half of the increase was accounted for by people from Asia, South America and Africa”, and visits from Chinese tourists to the UK rose by a third in 2011 compared to the previous year. As a result, Westminster Abbey saw a 36% increase in its visitor numbers in 2011 compared with 2010, with 1.9 million visits, which for the first time placed the Abbey in ALVA’s top 10 list of the most visited British attractions.

We could certainly expect a similar level of attention for Windsor Castle in the lead up to 2018’s Royal Wedding. Given Markle’s status as a famous American actress, having starred in the popular legal drama Suits, the international appeal of this Royal Wedding is staggering. In addition, like St Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle provides Chinese visitors with a Mandarin multimedia guide, making a visit to the royal palace comfortable and convenient.

Shopping is still an incentive

While ‘authentic travel experiences’ are a huge incentive for Chinese outbound travel, shopping still remains a popular reason to travel abroad. Although the Chinese don’t choose to travel to the UK primarily for shops, they certainly do a lot of shopping while they are here.

Bicester Village, an outlet village based in Oxfordshire, attracts hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists each year to its luxury brand stores. Reportedly, it rivals Buckingham Place as one of the UK’s most popular attractions, with eight out of ten Chinese tourists visiting the village during their trip. It’s only becoming more popular, as Chinese visitor numbers increased by 34% in 2016 compared to the year before. Chinese tourists visiting Bicester Village are guided by Mandarin signs installed at London’s Marylebone station, and many travel there by tour bus. The village itself targets Chinese consumers with Mandarin speakers, who make up the majority of the sales assistants.

In addition, a £185 million designer outlet village is being constructed in a complete circle around London’s O2 arena. The outlet village, expected to be around 204,000 square feet, will likely encompass over 100 shops and various restaurants. The impact of this new development is likely to be felt by the whole of London’s East and Southeast, and areas such as Greenwich and the Queen Elizabeth Park at Stratford are eagerly awaiting its launch.

Final thoughts

For our end-of-year article last year, our Managing Director, Helena Beard, had this to say about the state of Chinese tourism:

“China operates on a system of relationships and networks, collaboration and cooperation, loyalty to friends and partnerships with colleagues. The easier it is for the Chinese to visit and make these affiliations with the UK, the better our export prospects, the more students will come here to study, and the greater the economic benefits to our tourism industry.

Evidently, the UK and its European neighbours could only benefit from the improved collaboration and cooperation encouraged by the ECTY. This cross-cultural relationship will help develop Europe’s understanding of the Chinese outbound travel market, and the ways in which they could further adapt to accommodate their unique travel needs. This could only be fruitful going forward, and we at China Travel Outbound look forward to tracing the results of this relationship throughout the coming year.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors, please contact us for a chat.

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