A Chinese visitor working group has been formed by UK China Visitor Alliance and Visit Britain aimed at driving the growth of Chinese visitor numbers in Britain.
Chinese visitors numbers grew by 32% in 2017, building on from a 26% rise in 2016, boosted by streamlining of the application process in China for a UK and Schengen visa.
The working group will work with businesses and the Home Office to explore practical initiatives that will improve the Chinese tourist experience. They range from digitising the airport-validation process to improving payment methods for international customers.
Figures from tax-free shopping company Global Blue suggest the average Chinese tourist spends 58% of their holiday budget shopping – an average spend of €1,590 (£1,409).
The Chinese are the highest-spending tourists across the globe, with an estimated $260bn (£186,415,315,086) spent worldwide in 2016. Visitor visa numbers for 2017 indicate that rates of Chinese visitors to the UK have risen by over 150% in the past five years since 2012.
Chairman of the UK China Visitor Alliance Brian Bickell said: “We are pleased today the launch of the new UK/Chinese Visitor Working Group, which aims to bring together experts from government and business to examine all the different supply-and-demand issues in a comprehensive and holistic way. It will devise innovative, practical measures that taken together will encourage and enable more Chinese visitors to visit the UK.
“Currently we get 13 times more American tourists than Chinese, but Americans only account for 6% of tax-free shopping which reflects the importance of Chinese tourism to the UK economy.
“Visit Britain statistics show that for every 22 visitors one new job is created, whether that is retail/hospitality or other support, one new job is created – this means 15,000 jobs have been created with growth and tourist visas over the last five years.”
The UKCVA found that Chinese tourists were the highest-spending group in London’s West End in 2016, accounting for 25% of all tax-free shopping for the area, followed by tourist shoppers from Saudi Arabia, at 7%.
Tax-free shopping in the UK from Chinese tourists has grown on average 12% each year. A further 8% increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting Europe over the next five years is expected, predicts Global Blue.
Chief executive of Global Blue Jacques Stern said: “Our statistics show that when Chinese tourists visit, sightseeing is the most important reason to travel with shopping coming second. So, shopping destinations need to be attractive to capitalise on their spending.
“The UK needs to focus on improving the availability and process of tax-free shopping across the country, as currently it is not easy. The validation process for tax-free refunds at airports in particular is difficult. In the UK there are often queues of between 15 minutes and an hour to validate shopping refunds, which accounts for 40% of complaints from Chinese tourists regarding tax-free shopping.”
Key partners who have already signed up to the scheme include: Visit Britain, the Home Office, DCMS, UK Inbound, Tourism Alliance, IAG, Heathrow airport, London and partners.