Exploring the China Potential

Posted 16 Oct, 2018

“Chinese travellers of all sorts have become ubiquitous.” The Economist

At Titanic Belfast we have always recognised the potential of the China outbound tourism market, sending staff to the Tourism Ireland (TI) China Sales missions since we opened in 2012 and being the first in Ireland to complete the Tourist Welcome Training Programme offered by the Centre for Competitiveness Ireland in conjunction with the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI)

However, when I observe the number of Chinese visitors who arrive into Titanic Quarter getting that tick box photo outside our Iconic building or a selfie in front of the Titanic Sign but who don’t venture into our galleries, spend time in our cafes or buy gifts in our shop, I have to ask myself the question – is there something we aren’t doing right!.

When I received an invite from TI to join them on a learning trip to China and Hong Kong in May, I accepted, with the hope that if I immersed myself in their culture and engaged with the Chinese outbound tourism industry that I might just be able to unlock the potential for our business.

China has been the World’s 2nd largest economy for 7 years running, with a disposable income which grew 8.3% in 2017. In the same year, the number of Chinese outbound tourists reached 130 million making them the largest outbound travel market in the world.

So, what is being done by our Agencies to break into this relatively untapped market for Northern Ireland. Tourism Northern Ireland have now rolled out the China Welcome front-line training programme to over 90 companies, Tourism Ireland have a physical presence in China and have had for many years and aim to have someone in Hong Kong by 2019. Along with Dublin Airport they have been working to develop direct routes into Ireland, an initiative that saw a major break through this Summer with Hainan Airways and Cathay Pacific bringing the first ever direct flights from Asia into Dublin.

It is reported that 100,000 Chinese Visitors came into Ireland in 2017/18 with 70 % of them travelling to the North. Stena Line have also reported growth with over 65,000 Chinese visitors travelling annually, The Giants Causeway have reported 100,000 visitors and Titanic Belfast are sitting at 20,000 paying guests and a lot more who, as I say, just use us as a photo opportunity!

The Chinese Visitor is hooked by green open spaces, iconic photo opportunities, they love Titanic, Game of Thrones and the Giants Causeway, they are have a focus on well-being, green open spaces, and historic buildings all of which Northern Ireland have in abundance.

When in Beijing, the big light bulb moment for me was just how mobile dependant Chinese people have become with 850 million of them actively using phone based super apps such as WeChat and Alipay. When planning a trip over half of all destination searches and planning is done via mobile apps and 81% of the hotel bookings are made via mobiles, there is no doubt that online platforms are the China outbound travel purchasing channels of the future.

China is fast becoming a cashless society with the average traveller only having 12 Dollars per person in cash when travelling, no wonder they aren’t spending in our venue when we don’t enable them to do so.

So armed with my notebook full of my China learnings I have put a China Strategy in place to provide

mobile payment facilities, menus, literature and signage in Mandarin, Mandarin Speaking guides, worldwide shipping and Tax Back.

Only time will tell if we can entice our Chinese guests to stay longer and enjoy all things Titanic!

Judith Owens
CEO, Titanic Belfast