Despite Chinese Tourist Influx, British Hotels Losing Out On Home Turf

Chinese Tourists “Haven’t Really Reached The High End Hotels”

The Connaught is actively promoting itself to China's outbound tourists

The Connaught is actively promoting itself to China's outbound tourists

Though the number of outbound Chinese tourists heading to the UK continues to climb, rising an estimated 33 percent year-over-year in 2011, high-end British hoteliers haven’t seen quite the boost in Mandarin-speaking visitors they’d expected. According to industry site The Drinks Business, luxury hotels in London continue to take the long view on Chinese tourists, noting that they still spend primarily on shopping, but with travelers from Brazil and Russia proving profligate not only at shops but on accommodation, some are becoming more impatient. As Nathalie Seiler-Hayez, general manager of The Connaught hotel in Mayfair, told the site, “[Chinese tourists] all go and spend their money at Hermes or Chanel, but they haven’t really reached the high end hotels. They go to the Marriott or places like that because they don’t know the brands here yet.”

A recent study by the UK tourism agency VisitBritain found that the only country to show a greater increase to the UK from January 2011-January 2012 was Brazil, with trips by Brazilian tourists growing 44 percent. Still, between 2011 and 2020, VisitBritain predicts a 113 percent total increase in the number of Chinese travelers (excluding Hong Kong), and expects the UK to bring in around 300,000 within the next eight years. While the fewer than 110,000 trips by Chinese tourists to the UK in 2011 is highly modest compared to the more than one million who visited Paris, Britain remains at a competitive disadvantage against continental Europe. Apart from the draw of European high-end brands among outbound Chinese tourist-shoppers, countries like France are included in the Schengen zone-wide visa, which allows tour groups in particular to visit several countries in one trip.

Regardless, British hoteliers and retailers are optimistic about their prospects for attracting more Chinese visitors as more take their third or fourth trip to Europe. As Nathalie Seiler-Hayez of The Connaught noted, this will take “probably five years or more,” adding that hoteliers need to be proactive in their marketing efforts in China. For her hotel’s part, Seiler-Hayez said the growing thirst for high-end wines in China could be “a fabulous” way to reach prospective Chinese guests. Known for its expansive wine list, two Michelin-starred restaurant Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, and new “sommelier’s table” in its wine cellar, The Connaught is offering new programs like allowing visitors to choose their wines while Hélène Darroze designs a menu around them.

Bespoke services like that at The Connaught, which includes a consultation with sommelier Hugues Lepin, have proven popular with more sophisticated (and seasoned) outbound Chinese travelers in places like Hong Kong, New York and Paris. For the teetotaler, the hotel has seen success promoting its afternoon tea among Chinese and Brazilian guests.

As food & beverage manager Lionel Lachez put it, “It’s something quintessentially British: if you come to London, you have to have afternoon tea.”



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