THE number of Chinese tourists choosing to go on holiday in the Capital has soared nearly five-fold in only four years, new figures show.
There were around 23,000 visits by Chinese nationals last year – up from 17,000 the year before and 5000 in 2010 – with shops, hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions raking in a £10.5 million sales boost.
High-street store managers are now hiring native speakers and putting up Chinese-language shop signs in a bid to ensure tourists from the Asian superpower feel welcome and continue to spend.
International Passenger Survey data suggests growth in Chinese visitors to Edinburgh is running considerably ahead of the UK-wide figure, which last year came in at eight per cent.
And it has been achieved despite tough visa rules which require Chinese nationals to apply for separate permits if they want to travel in the UK and 26 European countries making up the Schengen area.
Business leaders stressed the positive trend was about much more than the presence of superstar pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang at Edinburgh Zoo.
Well established as the world’s second largest economy, China is also considered the top outbound tourist market globally, as members of its burgeoning middle class snap up high-end brands during tours across Europe.
And with Chinese visitors to Scotland splurging around £584 per trip, the Capital will reap a multi-million pound windfall lasting years if growth is maintained. Plans are already afoot to boost Edinburgh’s profile through improved trade links and international TV deals aimed at beaming the Military Tattoo to hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers.
But there were calls today for firms to up their luxury offering and hire more Chinese-speaking employees if the city is to remain a tourist magnet.
Andy Neal, of Essential Edinburgh, who manages the city centre’s business improvement district and is a member of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, said: “Boots on Princes Street have talked to me about [Chinese tourists] being a very important opportunity for them – they have actually recruited people who speak Chinese.
“I have also seen signage in shop windows in Chinese, talking about products which are on sale inside and tax rules. It’s all about communication.”
He added: “Without wanting to over-generalise, Chinese people are proud of their wealth and status, and want to show it. Staying in the right hotels, eating in the right restaurants and wearing designer labels – these things are important to them.”
Tourism experts have welcomed the visitor increase but stressed there was still much to do to preserve and enhance Edinburgh’s appeal in China.
Violet Cuffy, lecturer in tourism and hospitality management at Queen Margaret University, said Chinese travellers tended to have a huge appetite for new technology and tools such as phone-based sales apps were important opportunities.
“Effort needs to be placed in understanding the Chinese tourist and the Chinese culture, and training staff to address their unique needs – for example, in terms of the values on courteous service and respect for the elderly,” she said.
“Also, we must do more to capitalise on the instant promotion opportunity they represent due to their vast knowledge and use of technology and social media.”
City council bosses said they were exploring all avenues in a bid to ensure growth continues.
Councillor Frank Ross, economy leader, said: “With news the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is planning to feature Chinese Military bands next year, and is looking at broadcasting the event live to Chinese audiences, generating exposure of what Edinburgh has to offer visitors from China is only set to continue.”
Film a boost to Capital profile
THE Capital’s international profile has received a massive boost in the US thanks to a new film which has premiered at a major trade gathering.
Created by Convention Edinburgh, the business tourism arm of Marketing Edinburgh, the three-minute film got its debut at this year’s IMEX America travel event in Las Vegas.
It combines footage of Edinburgh’s iconic skyline with a whirlwind tour of conference facilities.
Lesley Williams, head of business tourism at Convention Edinburgh, said: “The main objective of the new film is to raise awareness and drive business tourism and conferences to the city.”