The number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK soared 37% in the first nine months of last year, taking the total to more than 200,000 in 2015.
Chinese visitors collectively spent just 4% more than in 2014 – or £435m – according to the tourism body VisitBritain. However, that was a bounce back from a 1% fall in the same period a year before, after a 68% surge in 2013.
While the number of Chinese visitors saw the fastest growth in the first nine months of last year, other tourists increased their spending by a greater amount.
The number of tourists from Saudi Arabia slipped down 3%, but they spent 44% more, taking their total spend to £466m. The number of visitors from France in 2015 remained at the same level as the preceding year, but their collective spending rose 9% to £1.2bn, overtaking Germans to be the second largest spenders collectively, behind Americans, who spent £2.3bn over the period.
Luxury retailers such as Burberry have reported “more challenging” conditions in the UK towards the end of last year because of a slowdown in spending by tourists from China and the Middle East.
The relatively high value of the pound against the euro has encouraged visitors to pick up luxury goods on the continent instead of in London or the Bicester Village discount shopping centre in Oxfordshire.
The Chinese stock market crash in the summer of 2015 also raised concerns about the slowdown in the country’s economy, but it remains a fast-growing market.
VisitBritain, which is hoping to double spending from Chinese visitors to £1bn by 2020, said they were already among the highest spenders – ringing up £2,688 a head. Chinese visitors already account for almost a quarter of tourist spending in the UK.
Higher incomes have allowed millions of Chinese to start taking holidays outside their country. The World Tourism Organisation estimates 100 million Chinese will leave their country on holiday this year. While Asian countries make up the top five destinations, France, Italy Switzerland and Germany are also in the top 10.
The UK has proved less popular, as it is outside the EU’s Schengen single-visa bloc. In a bid to boost visitor numbers ahead of Chinese new year on 8 February, the UK introduced a new two-year visitor visa for Chinese nationals earlier this month. The new visa will cost £85, the same as the previous six-month visa, and enables holders to make multiple trips to the UK.
“China is the world’s largest outbound market and a huge tourism opportunity for Britain,” said VisitBritain director Patricia Yates.