UK hotels are set to benefit from a tourism boom as the Government has vowed to relax visa rules. Those operating a Chinese web presence are predicted to see the biggest rises in visitor numbers. Under the Government plans, Chinese nationals will no longer need to apply for a separate UK visa when travelling to the EU, meaning Britain will feature on the itineraries of many more Chinese tourists.
"No limit to the number of Chinese tourists who can visit." - George Osborne
George Osborne is keen to stimulate the tourist economy in the UK by improving the appeal of the UK as a destination for Chinese tourists and students alike. In October's visit to China, he stated "I want more of you to come. Let me make this clear to you and to the whole of China.There is no limit to the number of Chinese tourists who can visit." Despite already being a popular destination for Chinese tourists, Britain lags well behind continental rivals such as France; while Britain welcomed 179,000 Chinese in 2012, those choosing to visit France rocketed to 1.4 million - a gap Chancellor George Osborne desperately wants to narrow.
Research showed that high-end Chinese tourists were not previously bothering with a UK visa after applying for the cheaper Schengen visa, which itself allowed entry to 26 European countries. In a pilot scheme, selected Chinese travel agents will now be able to apply for UK visas simply by submitting the same application form as used for the EU Schengen visa. Young, affluent Chinese are at the forefront of the tourism boom and their travel planning mirrors that of their European counterparts; opting against traditional travel agents and package tours and instead making their own plans.
Destinations are researched and booked online, with a strong preference for Chinese language websites and hotels that are seen to be catering to Chinese visitors. As the market increasingly moves in this direction, UK hotels that can make things as convenient as possible for Chinese travellers and reach them at the early planning stage of their trips - in their own language and on Chinese search engines - will secure a greater share of this fast-growing market. Chinese surfers always prefer information in their mother tongue, only those with the most advanced English skills will consider using English-language websites in their research.
Chinese language marketing a must
With the Chinese Baidu search engine reports a 86% homepage bounce out rate for any search leading to a website not in Chinese. Baidu controls 75% of the Chinese search market, with Google trailing far behind on a lowly 4%. First movers into the Chinese online space via Baidu have an opportunity to establish themselves in the minds of potential Chinese tourists long before they reach UK shores. Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said UK tourist businesses could "breathe a collective sigh of relief" at these plans to improve Chinese visa applications. "For too long, Britain has courted Chinese investment and tourism without facilitating the entry of Chinese visitors with the same vigour. A responsive visa system is crucial to demonstrating that the UK is open to trade and investment," he stated. With such a high profile interest in Chinese outbound tourism to Britain, tourist accommodation and destinations who make the first moves in understanding the Chinese opportunity and engaging directly with the market will no doubt reap the rewards.