Chinese tourists love Britain. They love our heritage, our museums, our quaint country villages and, of course, our shops. Many of them will also happily admit they have a slight obsessions with Downton Abbey and Sherlock Holmes.
The good news is, Chinese tourists are coming to Britain in record numbers and spending more money than ever before. In 2013 Britain welcomed 196,000 visits from China - an increase of 9.7% on 2012. A total of £491 million was spent on those visits, which amounts to a whopping 63.8% more spend than the previous year. Visits from China have doubled in the last five years and VisitBritain's goal is to welcome 650,000 Chinese visits a year by 2020, worth nearly £1.1 billion annually to the UK economy.
Last week, Theresa May announced what the British tourism industry has been hoping for: a new streamlined visa service for Chinese visitors. It means that those coming to the European Union will not have to submit separate visa applications for Britain. Additionally, in August, a 24-hour visa service will be launched.
"But why all the fuss about Chinese tourists?" you may ask.
China is now the world's biggest market for outbound tourism. By 2030 one in six people travelling internationally are forecast to be Chinese. Outbound trips from China increased from 83 million trips in 2012 to 98 million trips in 2013 and expenditure on those trips went up by 26.8 percent to a total of 128.7 billion USD. Britain's current share of the Chinese tourism market is small in volume but high in value - and growing fast. In percentage terms, over the last five years the amount spent by Chinese visitors has grown 44%. Roughly every twenty two Chinese visitors create one job in the UK.
The average amount spent by all international tourists on a visit to Britain last year was £640. On visits from France, the average was £344. When you compare this to the average £2,508 spent by Chinese tourists who came to Britain last year, it becomes clear that their love of shopping - especially for luxury designer goods - is not just a stereotype. It certainly makes the correct pronunciation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's surname ('Ker-ching') seem somewhat apt.
This high spend figure is also influenced by the fact that our Chinese visitors stay more nights in Britain - an average of 12.9 nights in 2013 (not including student visits, which drive it up to 24.6 nights) - than the average European tourist. For example, the average number of nights for a French tourist in Britain is 5 nights. On the flip side, according to Tourism Decision Metrics (TDM), 3.9% of Chinese visitors to Western Europe came to Britain in 2012, but this small group accounted for over 18% of all overnight stays by Chinese in Europe.
VisitBritain's aim is to make Britain the most welcoming destination for Chinese visitors in Europe. In March we launched the GREAT China Welcome to do just that. This initiative encourages British hotels, attractions and tour operators which offer information in Mandarin, Mandarin-speaking tour guides and other tailored services, to share best practice and sign up to our charter. This will enable them to display an official chartermark that will in turn help Chinese tourists identify these tailored services, in order to get the most out of their trip to Britain. We hope the initiative will also encourage more British tourism providers to join us and invest in making their products more suitable for Chinese consumers.
Tourism plays an important role in the fostering of Britain's wider relationship with China. With the Home Office's new visa changes, improved air capacity and British attractions and businesses working with VisitBritain to tailor their tourism offer, we look forward to seeing even more Chinese visitors coming and experiencing the things they love about Britain first-hand.