Every year we send the cream of UK tourism business across the world to promote themselves and generate business for the UK.
But following the fantastic year Britain has had in the spotlight, the next few missions through to 2013 bring an added sense of value and importance we haven't quite experienced before.
This week a highly influential tourism delegation from the UK has been visiting Shanghai and Tokyo, capitalising on the renewed interest in Britain post-London 2012 and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
As part of the trade missions the group will meet with leading Chinese and Japanese travel agents with hundreds of one-on-one business appointments and key seminars taking place.
Combined, a record 58 British organisations are taking part in these visits, the largest-ever delegation that we've led to Asia and an indication of just how important the region to the UK's tourism industry. Arsenal FC, The Shard, John Lewis, Harrods, Selfridges and Bicester Village are joining the trip with national and regional tourism boards and some of the biggest hotel groups from across Britain.
Our own research reveals that Chinese visitors in particular are drawn here by our rich culture and heritage, countryside and wonderful shopping experiences. Last year a record 150,000 visitors arrived in the UK from China, spending £240 million in the process. Over the last five years the UK has welcomed a 39% rise in visits from China, and we hope that by 2020 it can attract an additional 233,000 visitors - a 156% increase.
Japan also remains hugely significant for Britain, being the world's third-largest economy and still one of the top 10 largest source markets for tourism expenditure globally. In 2011, we welcomed a 6% increase in arrivals from Japan (237,000 visitors spending £191 million) compared to the previous year. Our aim is to attract an additional 61,000 Japanese visitors a year by 2020, a 26% increase in visits.
Earlier this year, we rolled out a record £1 million worth of image advertising in Tokyo, which included GREATBritain branded trains, billboards and digital screen commercials on the Tokyo Metro Underground.
Following the success of hosting the world's largest sporting event, we are now regarded as one of the top sport destinations for the Japanese. This is also helped by footballer Shinji Kagawa's move to Manchester United, something which opens up a new connection for fans and potential visitors. We've seen the impact Asian footballers can have on the sports tourism industry in the past and this will be no different.
I was delighted to hear that such was the demand from the industry, that the China mission could have been booked more than three times over. Britain's opportunities from China and Japan are vast, especially in this crucial post-London 2012 period.
The works starts now for VisitBritain and our commitment to building Britain's tourism economy throughout 2013 via the GREAT campaign is as strong as ever.