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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January 2005, 05:12 GMT
UK chases China's tourist boom
By Charlotte Windle
BBC correspondent in Shanghai

London sightseeing bus
Britain is punching beneath its weight on the Chinese market

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, is in China on some serious business: discussing the EU arms embargo and Beijing's desire to be granted full market-economy status.

But he may also give the British tourist industry a shot in the arm, having got Beijing to recognise the UK as an "approved destination" for Chinese tourists.

135,000 Chinese citizens travelled to the UK last year, all ostensibly for business or study reasons or to visit family.

In reality, most were group travellers who spent maybe one or two days "doing business" or "studying" and the remaining time sightseeing.

Still, owing to the complex restrictions on travel to the UK, Britain has only 0.6% of China's total outbound tourism market - which ranks it behind Germany and France, each with more than 1%.

Broader horizons

These percentages seem small because the vast majority of Chinese overseas tourists still travel within Asia.

But Stephen Dowd, head of trade body UKinbound, says even a small share of the market would be significant.

I plan to travel to the UK in 2005 at least twice
He Qing, a Shanghai-born property developer

Last February, 13 European countries, excluding Britain, Ireland and Denmark, signed an agreement with China granting them "Approved Destination Status" or ADS.

Apart from making it much easier for Chinese citizens to travel to these countries, this status also has the advantage of allowing destination countries to open offices in China to promote travel to their country.

The 10 new European Union members are also now on China's list. And both Ireland and Denmark have signed their own ADS agreements with China.

On Friday, after 20 months of negotiations, the UK signed an agreement allowing Chinese group tours to visit Britain.

He Qing, a Shanghai-born property developer and Anglophile, is delighted with the development.

"I plan to travel to the UK in 2005 at least twice, so I think it's good news for me."

Ready for action

There are already an estimated 25 million Chinese with enough money to travel abroad, a figure that's expected to double by 2008.

Even if the UK signs the agreement now, Travis Qian, head of the Shanghai branch of Visit Britain, says it will have to work hard for its share of the market.

He plans to work with PR and advertising agencies to get the British message out.

Virgin Atlantic's general manager for China, Chris Humphrey, says they're ready to take full advantage of the agreement.

"We're ready to go. We've developed a new tourist package brochure, similar to what you might find in high streets in the UK."

The UK is expected to have welcomed its first tour groups as an approved destination by the end of this year.

And if the UK tourism industry can attract the target of just 1% of the Chinese outbound tourist market, that will generate an estimated 1bn annually, and create some 25,000 jobs.

Europe opens up to Chinese tourists
01 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Europe woos China's tourists
14 Nov 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Europe boosts China ties
30 Oct 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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