Chinese Tourism to the UK: Key Strategies for Retailers and Hoteliers

By Erika Napoletano

There’s no argument that visitors to the United Kingdom from China are on the rise. In 2015, VisitBritain reported a nearly 46 percent increase in arrivals from China into the UK, totaling 239,631 visitors.[1] Together, these individuals spent more than £586 million, which was a 17 percent increase from 2014 figures – not to mention, an average spend per person of more than £2,100 while in the UK.

How Chinese Visitors Spend their Time in the UK

According to VisitBritain and a recent Luxury Travel Think Tank Report created in partnership between the British Hospitality Association and Discover Global Network, Chinese tourists tend to spend their time shopping, visiting museums, and exploring parks and gardens.

The Think Tank numbers estimate that while the average tourist to the UK spends about 16 percent of their budget on shopping, Chinese tourists spend roughly 34 percent – more than double the average.

Chinese tourists are also highly price-sensitive when it comes to where they stay. Most tend prefer 3- and 4-star hotels over luxury accommodations, leaning heavily toward hoteliers with greater focus on technology, such as in-room docking stations and wireless internet access.

Welcoming the Chinese Traveler

For merchants and hoteliers looking to both attract and welcome Chinese travelers, there are a few important points to note beyond their affinity for shopping and technology.
First, local and Chinese cuisine rate as the top food choices for Chinese travelers.

Next, they tend to prefer shopping at malls (79 percent preference), followed by department stores (55 percent) and boutiques (49 percent).

Also, the language difference is so great that it can pose a communication barrier. Not only is the Chinese language vastly different from the languages spoken across the UK, it has many dialects, with Cantonese and Mandarin bring the most popular.

So, how do retailers welcome Chinese travelers as they become a larger part of tourism in the UK?

To start, one hotelier in London employs staff members who speak Chinese languages at the hotel’s service areas and have a hotline where Chinese guests can dial from their room to connect with a same language-speaking staff member.

On top of language, they’ve added Chinese TV stations to their rooms and offer traditional Chinese dishes like congee.

At another hotel in West London, they’ve incorporated Eastern traditions into the physical structure of their guest experience.

Guests won’t find a fourth floor at the hotel, because the Chinese words for “death” and “four” sound very similar and therefore it is often avoided when numbering floors. Beyond this, guests will find all hotel literature in both English and Chinese.

The hotel also offers a traditional Chinese breakfast each morning along with Dim-Sum (traditional Chinese small plates, similar to tapas) at the guest’s request.

They’ve also explored marketing on Chinese social media applications such as Weibo and Wechat to stay in touch with their emerging Chinese clientele.

Advice for Merchants

The BHA and Discover Global Network report shows that 84 percent of Chinese tourists used a credit card while visiting the UK and 79 percent indicated it was their preferred method for making purchases.

In fact, 25 percent of Chinese travelers indicated that they would either spend less, find another merchant, or not make a purchase at all if their credit card was not accepted.

Thus, it’s important to make sure you are fully equipped to process credit cards from China, not to mention countries around the world where other tourists come from.

In the instance of China, you can easily accept payments from ICBC Diners Club cardholders just by accepting Discover Global Network.

“Discover Global Network has cardholders from around the globe including the UK’s highest spending tourist group, Americans, as well as one of the world’s fastest growing tourist groups, the Chinese,” says Kellie Glueck, Director of Product & International Marketing at Discover.

“Our cards include Discover Card from the U.S., Diners Club International, which is issued in more than 65 countries, and several global alliance partners. These high spending cardholders are loyal to their cards due to the lucrative benefits they receive.”

Approximately 92 percent of Chinese travelers will also check in advance of booking a hotel or making a purchase to see if their credit card is accepted. For merchants, this means you should display prominent payment brand signage online and at your location – you may miss out on a hotel booking or sale otherwise.

If you already accept cards on the Discover Global Network, order complimentary signage by visiting

Or, for more information on Discover Global Network, please visit

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