British cities and towns cater to Chinese tourists

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In the town of Bicester, Chinese are the top non-EU visitors. Supplied

LONDON (Xinhua) – For Chen Jie, a 46-year-old visitor from eastern China’s city of Hangzhou, shopping at Bicester Village feels almost identical back home.

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A long queue stretches outside the Burberry store, with many Asian faces. A restaurant called Shan Shui recently opened for business, with interiors recalling the ambience of old Shanghai. Quiet Mandarin chatter fills the air.

“The sales assistant who speaks Mandarin gave me good recommendation and helped me a lot,” said Mr Chen, accompanied by his wife and son, who were clutching five shopping bags.

Chinese visitors like Mr Chen has become Bicester’s number one non-EU customer, generating 40 percent of all non-EU tax refunded sales in 2017, according to a spokesperson, who added that “Average tax refunded spend per Chinese guest is in fact up 5 percent compared to the same period last year.”

Overall, 337,000 visitors from China spent more than $900 million during their stay in the UK last year, rising by 29 and 35 percent respectively, according to VisitBritain, the country’s tourist board.

Bicester Village is a window of British adaptations to attract ever more visitors from China.

All brands within Bicester Village now accept China Union Pay, and nearly 20 stores have adopted WeChat Pay and Alipay – Chinese tourists’ favoured mobile payment tools.

Announcements at the Bicester Village station, the London Marylebone station and on the train itself now include a Mandarin version. Bicester hires and trains Mandarin speaking staff, offers Chinese signage and even developed a Chinese smart-phone app, which enables users to explore the Village before arrival.

“We also engage our Chinese guests on their platform of choice, with three new WeChat accounts designed to communicate relevant news and bring the Village experience to life,” said the Bicester spokesperson.

With a double-digit growth in visits and spending by Chinese tourists last year, Britain has regarded China “the world’s most valuable outbound market”, planning to welcome 650,000 Chinese visits a year by 2020, which is expected to bring nearly 1.1 billion pounds (1.42 billion U.S. dollars) annually to the British economy.

“We want to build on the strong growth we have seen from China, delivering a world-class visitor experience for Chinese customers,” VisitBritain Commercial Director Carol Dray said.

Chinese spending in Britain is not only growing in shopping malls. More Chinese tourists now prefer to spend money on quality sightseeing and improving their travel experience, according to a report by Chinese online travel agency Ctrip, released earlier this year.

Phoebe Wang, tour department manager of Omega Tours Limited, agreed that Chinese tourists in Britain are increasingly interested in deeper understanding of British traditions and cultures.

“There are more and more Chinese guests coming to the UK to participate in high-end themed tours, such as English countryside hunting tours, ancient castle tours, horse-riding tours, wine tasting tours, etc.” she said.

Chen Heng, a tourist guide in London with Blue Badge, the highest guiding qualification in the UK, also saw that the demand and spending have been increasingly diversified.

“Chinese tourists used to choose travel with bus tour groups. Now personalized travel, travel with family and friends are becoming mainstream as more Chinese tourists want to slow down, willing to spend more time visiting museums, art galleries, and participating in local cultural and entertainment events, such as to enjoy musicals, drinking English afternoons,” Mr Chen told Xinhua.

These destinations are adapting, too. Major museums and art galleries in Britain, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery and Windsor Castle, now provide Chinese audio interpreters.

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