Government missing Chinese inbound target

China map
France receives eight times more Chinese tourists than the UK

The UK is to fall short of targets to bring half a million Chinese tourists to the country each year by 2015, a new report has said.

A study by The Tourism Alliance has predicted the number of inbound Chinese tourists to the UK will be at 317, 109 annually in two years’ time – 182,209 short of its goal.

High costs relating to visas and Air Passenger Duty (APD) have been blamed for the slow growth, which will miss figures set by secretary of state Jeremy Hunt after the Olympic Games.

While Hunt had hoped for a 35% increase between 2011 and 2015, numbers were up only 20% from 149,000 Chinese visitors in 2011 to 179,000 in 2012.

The report said the Government is “a long way off” capturing the growing outbound market as tourism numbers from the country have more than doubled to other European destinations. France receives eight times more visitors from China compared to the UK. Only 10% of European tours arrange by Chinese operators are thought to include the UK now, down from half of trips pre-2007.

However at least those who do visit spend a lot, with Chinese tourists through to spend GBP1, 680 in the UK per visit.

The alliance has now called for a more collaborative approach to boosting the numbers.

“Despite some reforms to visa processing and the boost provided by the Olympics, it is clear that not enough has been done to achieve the targets for attracting inbound tourism from China. Chinese tourists are a vital source of income for the UK, spending £102bn abroad in 2012,” said Mary Rance, chair of the Tourism Alliance. “While VisitBritain’s latest tourism strategy is clearly aimed at “Delivering a Golden Legacy”, it is clear that the Government’s approach to the opportunities provided by Chinese visitors is still stuck in the starting blocks. What is needed is a joined-up, coherent Government strategy that addresses the barriers that stop Chinese visitors coming to the UK”.

Confident of change

The UK China Visa Alliance (UKCVA) said it was “disappointing” to hear about the figures but seemed confident of changes to the visa system.

“These figures are certainly disappointing to see,” Rob McIvor, communications director at London First and leading partner of the UK China Visa Alliance told Travel Daily.

“But there has been a huge change in tone in the past few months with the visa and immigration services, particularly after Teresa May shook up the system and separated the process and enforcement side,” he added. “There is a wind of change and we have the sense that the visa and immigration services is starting to focus on Chinese immigration issues and actively look at ways to improve the process. The direction is encouraging and there is potential to reach the target.”

In addition the UKCVA is to undergo its own research into the market to see what influences a Chinese tourist’s decision to visit Europe.

“China is the biggest game and Europe is high on their desired destination. I think we need to understand what factors Chinese visitors take into account when they are choosing Europe as a destination. The UKCVA is to undergo some research in China soon to see what information or promotion about the UK is available to Chinese tourists and what the perception is. We want to get the UK on more itineraries and increase the stay to spend three or five days here instead of two, but show that there is more to the UK to Buckingham Palace and Bicester Village,” said McIvor.

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