Visit Leeds China Forum Launch Event

The Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds took part in the Visit Leeds China Forum launch event at Leeds City Museum on Friday 14 June 2019.

Aimed at the local visitor economy, the Forum aims to provide support for business hoping to tap into the huge potential of the inbound Chinese visitor market. The strong turnout from representatives of local businesses demonstrated the level of interest in the Forum. Attendees heard from a range of speakers who described the opportunity and shared their experiences, before Leeds Chinese tourism ambassador Will Zhuang introduced the support package available.

 “A fantastic initiative”

The launch event began with a welcome from Cllr Judith Blake, who highlighted the excellent work that is already going on but recognised that there is more to do. She said the city:

needs to be to be ready to provide the warm welcome that we know Leeds has on offer, but that can’t happen on its own, and needs some quite serious planning.

Cllr Blake said that the China Forum is a “fantastic initiative” that she hopes will help the city go from strength to strength.

Chinese Consul General Xiyuan Zheng, visiting Leeds for the third time to attend the launch, said he feels very at home here. He mentioned the now well-established Hangzhou Leeds relationship and drew attention to the large numbers of Chinese people in Leeds as well as Chinese tourists’ high spend when abroad. He hopes to see more Chinese tourists coming to Leeds and more opportunities for China to develop links with Leeds’ flourishing digital economy. Statistics he cited include:

  • There are almost 5000 students in Leeds and 10000 people of Chinese origin.
  • There were 130 million outbound Chinese tourists in 2017 – almost double the population of the UK
  • In airports Chinese people spend an average of £150 (for comparison, Spanish tourists spend £4 on average)

China Forum objectives

Visit Leeds Visitor Economy Manager Claire Heap then explained the objectives of the China Forum:

  • Develop a network
  • Increase visitor numbers and dwell time
  • Provide support to help businesses enrich the experience of Chinese visitors

This is all building upon previous initiatives including the Northern Tourism Growth Fund, the Discover England Fund, and working as destination partners with Marketing Manchester.

The video clip below features Claire briefly introducing the Chinese visitor market.

How the Business Confucius Institute is involved

The Business Confucius Institute offers Chinese language and culture training to businesses, and over the past year has produced videos to highlight this work and showcase examples of best practice.

The videos have helped to uncover examples from around the city, including Malcolm Michael’s Butchers at Kirkgate Market and The Body Shop on Leeds Briggate, who were both present at the China Forum launch to share their experiences with attendees.

The Business Confucius Institute is pleased to be working closely with Visit Leeds to continue supporting local businesses that wish to learn more about Chinese language and culture to serve their Chinese customers better. We will be providing Chinese language training for China Forum members, and hope that some will follow in the footsteps of The Grand Hotel and Spa where staff doing Mandarin lessons have also taken Chinese Proficiency Exams.

After an introduction from BCI Executive Director Dr Giles Blackburne, attendees were treated to a short Chinese language taster session to get a sense of what it is like to learn Mandarin.

Gateway to the North – Marketing Manchester

Visit Leeds is a destination partner with Marketing Manchester, which promotes Manchester (and Manchester airport) as the ‘Gateway to the North’. Tim Manley shared their experiences and future plans, which involve lots of work both in China and the UK to promote the offering and develop partnerships with the travel trade and key websites.

One partner for the coming year will be CTrip, which is used for 80% of outbound travel from China. CTrip representative Mandy Wu was at the China Forum launch to introduce the brand, and drew from their data to provide a useful overview of Chinese travel behaviour. Peak times for travel are Chinese New Year, summer holidays, Golden Week and Christmas (for shopping). The average lead time for booking travel is 12 days.

Learning from each other

Finally, attendees heard from businesses who are already taking steps to provide a better experience for Chinese visitors.

The Marriott described simple steps such as introducing a QR code to scan for their menu and providing a personalised welcome letter about the hotel for Chinese visitors. Other steps they have taken include providing bottled water, slippers and bathrobes in hotel rooms, and putting extra Chinese items on their breakfast menu.

Sam Staunton from the Body Shop explained that the store noticed a language and culture barrier with Chinese customers, and wanted to provide them with the same experience as everyone else. Staff have taken Mandarin taster lessons with the Business Confucius Institute, and the store is working on promotions for Chinese holidays including Singles Day, Golden Week and Chinese Valentine’s Day. Chinese customers shop later than everyone else, so the shop is highlighting its closed door shopping experience offering for them. Sam was also pleased to announce that a Mandarin-speaking member of staff would soon be joining the team.

See more from Sam in the BCI video ‘Improving the customer experience for Chinese visitors‘.

Malcolm Michael’s butchers have experienced a shift in their Chinese customer base and the student trade is now bigger than the takeaway and restaurant trade. They offer different kinds of products that Chinese customers often requested, and have set up Chinese social media accounts. Michael noted that their Chinese customers “come in ones and twos, and come back in threes and fours and fives and sixes”.

See more from Malcolm Michael’s Butchers in the BCI video ‘Why paying attention to Chinese customers is good for business‘.