VisitBritain, the UK tourism body said there were 214,000 visits from China in January-September 2015, up 37% from 157,000 in the same period of 2014. Chinese visitors collectively spent just 4% more than in 2014 – or £435m – according to the tourism body VisitBritain. However, that was a bounce back from a 1% fall in the same period a year before, after a 68% surge in 2013.
While the number of Chinese visitors saw the fastest growth in the first nine months of last year, other tourists increased their spending by a greater amount.
The number of tourists from Saudi Arabia slipped down 3%, but they spent 44% more, taking their total spend to £466m. The number of visitors from France in 2015 remained at the same level as the preceding year, but their collective spending rose 9% to £1.2bn, overtaking Germans to be the second largest spenders collectively, behind Americans, who spent £2.3bn over the period.
Luxury retailers such as Burberry have reported “more challenging” conditions in the UK towards the end of 2015 because of a slowdown in spending by tourists from China and the Middle East. The relatively high value of the pound against the euro last year encouraged visitors to pick up luxury goods on the continent instead of in London or the Bicester Village discount shopping centre in Oxfordshire.
The Chinese stock market crash in the summer of 2015 also raised concerns about the slowdown in the country’s economy, but it remains a fast-growing market.
VisitBritain, which is hoping to double spending from Chinese visitors to £1bn by 2020, said they were already among the highest spenders – ringing up £2,688 a head. Chinese visitors already account for almost a quarter of tourist spending in the UK.
Higher incomes have allowed millions of Chinese to start taking holidays outside their country. The World Tourism Organisation estimates 100 million Chinese will leave their country on holiday this year. While Asian countries make up the top five destinations, France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany are also in the top 10.
The UK has proved less popular, as it is outside the EU’s Schengen single-visa bloc. In a bid to boost visitor numbers ahead of Chinese new year on 8 February, the UK introduced a new two-year visitor visa for Chinese nationals in January 2016 (please see for further information: http://www.gherson.com/blog/new-two-year-chinese-visit-visa-launched-on-11-january/). The new visa cost £85, the same as the previous six-month visa, and enabled holders to make multiple trips to the UK for longer periods.
The culture secretary said the VisitBritain statistics on Chinese visits were “great news” for the UK economy. “We are making it even easier for Chinese tourists to come and enjoy the best of Britain and our recently launched two-year visa scheme will encourage even more to visit,” John Whittingdale said.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “[The new two-year visa] is designed to make it easier for Chinese business people, for Chinese tourists to visit the UK and we hope that it will herald the beginning of a far higher level of interchange and exchange between our two peoples.” He added that “in due course we would like to see this two-year visa extended to a 10-year multiple entry visa”.
There are also plans to extend the UK’s mobile fingerprinting service, which captures the biometrics needed for applications, from nine to 50 Chinese cities.
These changes and improvements in the UK visa system will make it easier for Chinese visitors to come to the UK for the purposes of tourism and business thus enabling increased investment and expenditure in the UK market and economy.