1st official Chinese holidaymakers arrive in UK

LONDON, July 25 Kyodo

The first group of Chinese tourists to take advantage of new holiday visas for Britain started their tour Monday, heralding the start of a lucrative market which could soon rival and overtake the contribution that the Japanese make to the country’s travel industry.

The Chinese market currently brings in 131 million pounds ($229 million) a year to Britain, but with the new visas tourist chiefs hope to boost trade to over 200 million pounds by 2010 ($349 million), and again to over half a billion pounds by 2020. This could mean upward of 200,000 visitors from China in 2010 and the potential for China to be in Britain’s top 10 inbound tourist markets by 2020.

Until a recent agreement between London and Beijing, Chinese citizens could only visit Britain on business or as students. Under the new deal, Chinese can now apply for visas to come here as tourists, according to VisitBritain, the national tourism marketing agency.

The first leisure tour from China using these new visas started Monday and, joined by officials from Beijing and Shanghai and Chinese media, travel bosses have laid on a special program designed to promote Britain’s attractions.

The Chinese delegation, comprising around 80 people, are also being treated to a sumptuous Chinese meal in the Tower of London which will also be attended by Queen Elizabeth’s second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Colin Marshall, VisitBritain’s chairman, said in a statement, ”The emerging Chinese market is extremely important for VisitBritain’s 74 billion pounds visitor economy and offers huge potential for growth.

”The natural beauty of our landscapes, countryside and beaches, as well as iconic and historic landmarks, our rich cultural heritage, and superlative shopping and dining, will all drive Chinese visitors to choose Britain for their holidays.”

James Bidwell, VisitLondon’s chief executive, said, ”China is a powerhouse economy and there is a huge potential market for growth.”

The tour will also visit the Lake District, Edinburgh, Oxford University as well as Liverpool and Manchester football clubs.

Under the new agreement, Chinese citizens can now obtain ”Approved Destination Status Visas” for holiday groups of five or more. Over 60 British companies are now working with the China National Tourism Administration to provide services to Chinese tour operators, travel agents and airlines.

Tourism chiefs in Britain hope that this will lead to a massive boost in Chinese visitors, numbers which grew by 41 percent last year alone and contributed 131 million pounds to the economy. Visits from China have more than doubled over the last five years to over 100,000 with spending rising by 60 percent.

A VisitBritain spokesman said this compared with the Japanese market which is currently valued at around 242 million pounds a year ($423 million), but which is not expected to grow at the same rate over the coming years.

He said that the Chinese trip is going well and the delegation did not feel that the recent terrorist attacks, in which 56 people died, would deter travelers.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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