UK failing to lure Chinese tourists

Updated: 2011-10-28 07:13

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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LONDON - The United Kingdom is lagging behind its European neighbors in attracting Chinese tourists, according to a new report by the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.

The report estimates around 127,000 Chinese tourists came to the UK in 2010, while France, Italy and Germany are each currently attracting between 500,000 and 700,000 Chinese visitors.

More travelers to Europe come from China than any other Asian country. In 2010, China's outbound tourists spent 30.4 billion pounds ($48.7 billion) on their travels, up 14 percent on the previous year and on track to reach 34.8 billion pounds this year.

The UK government's current target is to increase inbound tourism revenue by 5 percent over the next 10 years, so being aggressive in attracting Chinese tourists is one of the biggest opportunities for growth.

"Chinese visitor numbers to the UK have been steadily rising over the last few years, but we can clearly do more to attract an even greater number," said Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain, the UK's national tourism agency.

Chinese tourists spend an average 202 pounds a day on trips to Europe, and can spend more than 600 pounds in one shopping trip, more than Russian, Arab or Japanese travelers, according to CB Richard Ellis consultancy.

British luxury fashion house Burberry has reported that 30 percent of the sales in its UK stores were to Chinese customers, and a recent report from London Luxury, a retailers' organization representing fashion boutiques in the Bond Street area of central London, found that Chinese shoppers spent 200 million pounds in this area in 2010, representing a 155 percent rise on the previous year.

"If we could increase the appeal of Britain - in line with where our European competitors are right now - this would help generate nearly 1 billion pounds from Chinese visitors every year," Dawe continued.

The first issue to address may be visa applications.

The UK is not part of the Schengen Treaty area. Chinese visitors currently still have to apply for a separate visa to enter the nation, whereas one visa for any country within the Schengen area allows free entry to all the other treaty area countries.

"The government needs to consider reducing the intrusive documentation and time required to obtain a visa," said Nick Haley, co-founder of Danos & Haley, a UK inbound travel company that creates bespoke itineraries for high-end Chinese visitors.

He also called for larger airport capacity.

"The UK is losing out to European countries with flight routes into secondary cities in China. Even KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) is marketing its Amsterdam-China routes to Chinese companies based in the UK."

Danos & Haley provides priority airport formalities on arrival and private shopping experiences at Harrods with personal stylists. It also offers specialized campus tours of British universities including meetings with staff.

Earlier this year Hilton Hotels & Resorts introduced a program tailored to meet the needs of Chinese travelers.

The program includes front desk team members fluent in Mandarin, a traditional Chinese breakfast and in-room items such as a welcome letter in Chinese, and Chinese teas and television programming.

"China is a key focus for our business," said Dave Horton, global head of Hilton Hotels & Resorts. "If our industry is serious about gaining a 5 percent growth in the UK then we have to start taking action now."

AFP and Ma Liyao contributed to this story.