UK tourism agency looking to partner with Chinese carrier

The United Kingdom's national tourism agency Visit-Britain is seeking to partner with a China-based airline to attract more visitors from the Chinese mainland to Britain after a double-digit growth in visits and spending from Chinese tourists last year.

VisitBritain Commercial Director Carol Dray said China is the world's most valuable outbound market and extremely important.

"We want to build on the strong growth we have seen from China, delivering a world-class visitor experience for Chinese customers," she added.

"Making it easier to travel to Britain through increasing route connectivity and airline seat-capacity is a crucial part of our competitive tourism offer, converting the aspiration to visit into bookings and inspiring more visitors from China to book a trip right now."

The agency's tendering process for a contract worth 6 million pounds (7.88 million U.S. dollars) closed on July 31, with applicants being told that "the partner should be an established brand in China with a solid reputation and substantial market share of air travel to Britain."

James Kennell, principal lecturer in tourism at the University of Greenwich, said that since 2010, Visit-Britain has been focused on working with numerous private sector partners, rather than trying to provide everything itself.

"Chinese tourists are a growing market for the UK, but only the 10th-highest spenders, so it is a priority for VisitBritain to develop new ways to attract Chinese tourists," he said. "The best way for them to do this is with the help of a Chinese partner who has the right knowledge and expertise."

Figures revealed by the China Tourism Academy and China's leading online travel company Ctrip show that Chinese tourists made more than 130 million overseas trips in 2017, spending 115 billion U.S. dollars.

The UK was in the top three favored European destinations among Chinese tourists. Latest official figures from VisitBritain showed visits from China to the UK in 2017 were up 29 percent on 2016 to a record 337,000, with visitor spending a record outlay of 694 million pounds (911.64 million U.S. dollars), an increase of 35 percent on the previous year.

Freddie Julius, CEO of Tourist England, a platform providing information and one-stop-shop services for visitors to the UK, sees VisitBritain's recent move as part of a strategy to diversify the UK's tourism industry in the wake of Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

He agreed that one of the most effective ways to tap into the Chinese market is through using local companies, like airlines, that understand the culture and already have the infrastructure in place to successfully connect with Chinese holidaymakers.

"The UK is keen to develop markets outside of the EU and the Chinese market is particularly attractive, since Chinese tourists are high spenders," Julius said.

"In addition, not only do Chinese tourists like to visit the traditional attractions centered around London, but also like to explore less visited areas of the UK like the Cotswolds, and so are seen as an important way to spread the benefits of tourism to all over the UK."