Home ConsumerCulture The habits of Chinese travellers is changing fast and Britain is benefiting

The habits of Chinese travellers is changing fast and Britain is benefiting

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Chinese tourists in London

Eve Baker of travel agency Beiwei55 discusses changing Chinese travel habits in a post-Brexit world and the importance of brand Britain

Have you seen a rise in the number of Chinese tourists coming to the UK?

Since we started in 2014 there has been a notable rise, particularly last year after the Brexit vote when the pound plummeted. Things have calmed down a bit since but the market is still growing significantly, particularly when you consider that less than seven percent of Chinese people actually own a passport.

What do they look for in the UK that is different from other tourists from other countries?

I think there is a fascination with our history and heritage and how well it has been preserved. Also, counter to the stereotypes, Chinese visitors love to try local food and dishes while they’re here. We’ve just launched a food tour which takes in some great food spots around London including Borough Market.

Do many Chinese tourists look for higher-end activities?

It’s always dangerous to generalise about such a huge market, but there is certainly interest among high-end Chinese tourists for these types of activity and the market as a whole is moving towards a more experiential form of travel where the focus is on having local, in-depth experiences rather than whistle-stop tours around the UK.

Eve Baker

Eve Baker

Are Chinese visitors looking for activities they are passive towards (for example watching sports) or active towards (for example driving trips or food and drink tasting)?

Good question, I have never looked at it like this. I think there is always going to be interest in both as long as the activity provides a truly authentic experience. Passive activities such as going to the theatre or watching Wimbledon are perhaps more accessible and so I can see why a more ‘active activity’, which is harder to come by, such as gin tasting or a driving experience may appeal to Chinese visitors who are looking to do something unique that their friends may not have experienced already.

What do you offer that is most appealing for Chinese visitors?

Our unique selling point of native British Mandarin-speaking guides often first attracts a Chinese visitor to our products – they find it to be a great way to get closer to Britain without the language barriers. Our half-day city walking tours target the new generation of Chinese tourists who are semi- or fully-independent and wish to travel around the UK at a slower pace, spending time in each destination to get to know its history and culture, rather than passing through on a big bus with a quick stop to get the compulsory photograph. We run our walking tours across London and in other popular destinations such as Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, York and Durham. Most of the walks include a sit down in a traditional pub for a pint, or a cup of tea in an independent tea house.

How does the UK differ from other countries and what do you think is its unique selling point?

We are so lucky in the UK because we have a natural brand to work with. The Union Jack is recognisable all over the world; you’ll even see it branding umbrellas and kids’ clothing in China. The Royal Family is iconic and intriguing, luring visitors from across the globe. We are historically rich as a nation, taking pride in our heritage and historical landmarks, and yet we are also forward-thinking and creative. To visit the UK is a prestigious thing, and for many Chinese, it is not a case of if but a case of when.

How does the UK accommodate Chinese visitors and what does it do to attract them?

Visit Britain’s Great China Welcome campaign really helped make UK travel and hospitality companies recognise the importance of this growing market and how to meet their need with things like the provision of Chinese language content, food options or Mandarin-speaking staff who are culturally aware. Tourist boards and travel companies here have also pooled together to arrange familiarisation trips for Chinese Key Opinion Leaders, which can have a massive impact on Chinese visitors who may be considering or researching the UK as a destination to visit. But we can do a lot more. We still fall behind countries like France in terms of Chinese visitor numbers. Part of the barrier is the visa process which is not as straight forward or affordable as it could be for Chinese visitors, particularly if we compare it to somewhere like the USA who offer a 10-year multi-entry visa.

How do you market to the Chinese sector and how does this differ from other marketing?

We spend a lot of time establishing relationships with key Chinese travel agents, both online and offline in China, who sell to our target customer. We communicate in Chinese almost daily with most of these agents, mostly via WeChat and QQ, and we make annual trips to China to build on these relationships. We go for quality over quantity, ensuring we work with agents whose brand vision and travel services are in line with our own.

Eve Baker is the managing director of travel company Beiwei55.co.uk

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