Tourism industry study reveals key lessons in attracting Chinese visitors

New research has revealed insights into how the UK’s inbound tourism organisations can attract more Chinese visitors.

Many UK tourism firms are looking to tap into the Chinese market, which has grown by more than 200% since 2010, according to Visit Britain.

Now Qa Research has found that success depends on

  • targeting a specific sector of Chinese travellers
  • understanding what makes Britain appealing to people from China
  • developing key relationships, and a digital strategy – often with partners.

The research, in association with UKinbound, the trade body representing Britain’s inbound tourism sector, offers a potential roadmap for businesses wishing to engage in a market worth £700m a year to the UK economy.

Different markets

Scotts Fish and Chips near York is now on the group tour itinerary of Chinese tour operators

Qa Research interviewed a range of attractions, hoteliers, destinations and marketing experts to find what works as well as some of the challenges of targeting the Chinese market.

One of the important insights is that Chinese inbound tourism is subdivided into distinct markets, including package tour groups, business delegations and free independent travellers (FITs).

Group tours are run by Chinese tour operators, who decide every stop on the itinerary.

By contrast, FITs have individual control over where they go and what they do. They could be seasoned middle-aged travellers or affluent millennials.

Inbound tourism organisations should begin by deciding which market or markets to target – then understanding the specific nuances of those markets.

Why visit Britain?

The Queen at an engagement in 2017. Photograph: Ministry of Defence

Chinese visitors want a uniquely British experience they can share with friends and family back home.

This is not so much about our history as our culture.

Informed by what Chinese people learn in school, read in magazines and see online and on TV, British culture means things like

  • royalty and aristocracy
  • TV and film – eg Harry Potter
  • food and drink – fish and chips, a pint of beer
  • Premier League football
  • the English countryside.

Qa Research managing director Richard Bryan said: “Finding a connection with China is also important.

“It helps you achieve visibility in the Chinese market.

“Balance this with a unique sense of Britishness and you have something very appealing to many visitors from China.”

Promotional strategies

After identifying the market and developing a particular ‘sell’ to Chinese tourists, attractions need to develop their promotional strategies.

Many businesses don’t have the resources to go it alone – so a partnership with the local destination management organisation or with other tourism businesses in the area could be key.

As one attraction told researchers:

Definitely work collaboratively. It’s such a huge market, and unless you’ve got a bottomless pit of money I don’t think you can tackle it on your own.

Qa found successful strategies are usually based on both personal relationships with tour operators and other key professionals, combined with digital marketing.

Enlisting an expert – from a student intern to professional agents – also pays dividends.

Digital marketing to China is the same as in the UK, just on different platforms, including

And as Chinese tourists begin to visit, don’t forget welcoming touches – such as hot water, familiar food, Mandarin signs and basic cultural and language training for staff.

Download the Qa Research report

Learn more about this large and growing sector in our report in association with UKinbound, Targeting the Chinese Market: The Industry View (PDF).

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For more information about our work with the tourism sector contact Richard Bryan, Managing Director at richard.bryan@qaresearch.co.uk and 01904 632039