When it comes to attracting the prized Chinese tourist, the task is complex — but the potential is huge.
Up to 140m Chinese are predicted to travel overseas in 2016, spending upwards of €300bn, marking a 15% upward spike from 2015. By 2020, it is expected that 235m Chinese tourists will splurge €400bn across the globe.
With travel enshrined as the preferred activity for the burgeoning Chinese middle class, Europe figures prominently on their overseas wish list.
France is a consistent top choice for this new breed of traveller, attracted by its cultural romance, vintage wines and luxury fashion labels. Despite the terrorist attacks, Paris and other historic sites welcomed over 2m Chinese last year, a growth of over 50%.
Two weeks ago, Tourism Ireland led its largest ever sales mission to China in a bid to increase our share of this rapidly growing market.
Ireland attracted 45,000 Chinese visitors in 2015 — a figure expected to grow by 10% annually to 2020.
The Tourism Ireland delegation was joined by a number of key agencies – including the Dublin Airport Authority, exploring the possibility of direct flights from China to Ireland.
Last year, Shi Boli, general manager of Beijing Airport, indicated that a Dublin route was on his radar, in tandem with an additional direct service to Manchester.
Irish visa offices continue to highlight the British-Irish Visa Scheme, which enables leisure and business travellers from China to visit Ireland and the UK on a single visa.
Tourism Ireland has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. The organisation’s activity in China involves establishing and building relationships with influential intermediaries, such as the travel trade, airlines and media — highlighting Ireland’s natural attractions, cities, castles, and proximity to Britain.
The sales mission included representatives from Guinness Storehouse, Kildare Village, Manor House & Irish Country Hotels, National Trust Giant’s Causeway, The Merrion Hotel, and Titanic Belfast.
“Our sales mission is to win a greater share of the 4m Chinese visitors who travel to Europe each year,” says Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland. “We are committed to growing Chinese visitors to Ireland to 50,000 per year by 2017, and our sales mission will play a significant role in helping us achieve this target.”
Ireland has featured prominently in the Chinese news spotlight recently, following the visit last year of Chinese premier Li Keqiang to the west of Ireland, and the state visit of China’s president, Xi Jinping, in 2012.
An episode of a popular reality TV show, Exploration of the World, recently aired to more than 6m viewers as it tracked eight Chinese celebrities attempting to master hurling, Gaelic football, and handball.
The celebrities also took on the challenge of learning Irish dancing and traditional music.
China Central Television, the predominant state broadcaster, also visited Ireland in 2015, filming a documentary entitled Glamorous Ireland, highlighting the scenic landscape, arts and crafts and family life, for an audience of over 100m Chinese around the world.
Opening to the theme music of Riverdance, Ireland was described as a “dream destination” and one of “Europe’s most popular places to live”.
The week-long shoot around Dublin, Wicklow, Cork, and Clare featured a tour of Dublin Castle, scenes from President Michael D Higgins’s inauguration, the Guinness Storehouse, and a visit to the Museum of Irish Whiskey.
The warmth and sincerity of the Irish people hits a very positive note with Chinese visitors, says Fiona O’Sullivan of Custom Ireland, which organises tailor-made travel itineraries.
“Despite the language difficulties, Chinese visitors clearly love interacting with Irish people on every level,” she says. “They feel a genuine connection and are very happy and comfortable with Irish people. The welcome and the scenery are, without a doubt, amongst the top things they love.”
Paula Cogan, director of sales and marketing at Cork’s River Lee Hotel, says Chinese guests expect a very high level of service in hotels and are not afraid to voice their criticism.
“They like genuine Chinese food as part of the menu and appreciate it when items such as green tea, slippers, bath robes, and toothpaste are provided,” says Ms Cogan. “They would be mid price spenders when it comes to accommodation, and they expect value for money. ”
Along with golf and historic sites, Chinese visitors are keen shoppers — with the emphasis on brand name goods.
“They love to shop, specifically for luxury goods,” says Ms Cogan. “In many countries, like Switzerland, hotels and retailers work together, and some shops will subsidise accommodation costs just to get Chinese visitors to spend on luxury goods.”
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