Lake District – Chinese Destination of Choice, part 2

Whilst planning his recent visit to China, Colin Fox, Marketing Manager for English Lakes met other professionals linked to China and tourism. In the second blog in this short series, Colin talks to Helen Moriarty, Senior Development Officer for Groundwork North East & Cumbria.

Tell us about your trip to Nanjing

Green Travel Poster
Green Travel Poster

I was invited to lecture at Nanjing University by Dr Richard Kirby, a Chinese expert and speaker, to complement his lectures in Chinese Urban Planning with my Responsible Tourism experience and knowledge. Together we sparked some interesting discussions about the opportunities for Responsible Tourism in China and promoted the Lake District amongst various tourism academics.

We worked with one group of tourism students over four days, their Master’s research topics ranged from sustainable visitor management systems, green accreditation systems, cultural heritage and resource protection and management – all very similar to the topics covered in my MSc in Responsible Tourism Management.

Nanjing University Lecture Poster
Nanjing University Lecture Poster

In China, these topics are described as ‘Eco Tourism’ and include social, cultural and economic considerations. Despite labelling differences, we were fans of the same objective: to minimise the negative impacts of tourism and maximise the positive ones. As the former Sustainable Tourism Advisor at Nurture Lakeland, I was able to provide numerous examples of Responsible Tourism in action from Cumbria. Whilst the scale of our lovely mountains pale in comparison to the likes of the Huangshan range and our fine dry stone walls aren’t quite as famous as the Great Wall of China, the students did consider what we do here and how it could be replicated in China.

Nanjing University is one of the top Universities in China and with these students at the helm of future tourism in China, I’m confident that more responsible forms of tourism will be successfully created throughout the country and sought when travelling overseas. Considering the number of domestic tourist days in 2013 was estimated at 3.3 billion they have quite a challenge ahead!

What do you think about the changes in the Chinese market?

The outbound Chinese Market is growing at a phenomenal rate due to a significant rise in wealth and freedom to travel, here are a few of my favourite statistics;

  • China has the world’s largest concentration of self-made millionaires and billionaires (Hoogewerf, 2012)
  • China’s middle class is larger than the entire population of the US, in 15 years China’s middle class will reach 800 million people (Arlt, 2012).
  • The Chinese Outbound Market could be the biggest phenomenon to hit the global travel industry since the invention of commercial flight (CNN, 2013)
Chinese Tourists at Slender West Lake, Nanjing
Chinese Tourists at Slender West Lake, Nanjing

Whilst choosing a research topic for my MSc in Responsible Tourism Management it was hard to ignore this Chinese seismic shift in global tourism. I was particularly interested in the opportunity for Chinese tourists to experience Responsible Tourism (RT) and for RT to become the principle way Chinese visitors experience destinations.

Chinese visitors to the UK are predicted to grow by 67% over the next seven years, indeed Chinese UK arrivals have already increased by 82% over the last 5 years (Visit Britain 2014). If these growth predictions are true we have a responsibility to manage the potential negative impacts of such growth. Many Chinese travelers are travelling for the first time, pioneers in this new global order, and are yet to establish their cultural holiday norms. This presents the perfect opportunity for RT to influence and shape the way Chinese visitors experience destinations. For example, by staying in Green Accredited hotels (like English Lakes), donating to local projects (via Visitor Giving something the English Lakes also do very well!), supporting local produce and enabling visitors to access and experience a destination’s true culture sensitively and responsibly.

What did your Chinese Market research reveal?

My research overwhelmingly revealed that many of the cultural stereotypes associated with the Chinese market, such as a strong desire for luxury shopping and a reluctance to eat western food, were not applicable to the Chinese visitors who had discovered the Lake District. In contrast, the visitors I met had a strong desire to learn and experience the farming and cultural heritage of this area. As one interviewee described, they want to ‘go deeper’ and understand and interpret the exotic landscapes that surround them.

How can your research support the development of the Chinese market here in the Lake District?

Chinese Tourists at Huangshan Mountain Range
Chinese Tourists at Huangshan Mountain Range

The Chinese will arrive here regardless of what the local tourism industry does or doesn’t do. However, to ensure Chinese visitors repeat their visit, recommend the Lake District and maximise the benefits for local communities and environments – action is required. The Lake District must package its existing assets to suit the cultural needs and preferences of Chinese visitors. Just as we have done very successfully for the Japanese Market; proactive adaptation and interpretation is required.

My research produced guidelines for accommodation providers and tourism organisations, outlining the often simple things that can be tweaked to the benefit of the Chinese Market. Many businesses and organisations find the research useful, insightful and ultimately profitable.

Additionally, together with Dr Richard Kirby, utilising his Chinese cultural knowledge and language skills, we are creating a tour company that will provide the type of product this market craves – cultural, responsible and experiential. We will be launching ‘Yang Co’ on Chinese New Year, 21st of February, which coincidentally is the year of the sheep – a Lake District cultural asset we can easily promote! Look out for more info on this exciting venture in December’s Lancashire Life and to find out more about accessing the guidelines or about Yang Co do contact me via helenmoriarty@outlook.com

As Bob Cartwright commented in his blog post, the Lake District is a perfect destination for pioneering Chinese visitors and via businesses such as English Lakes Hotels, Yang Co and others who prioritise responsible tourism, quality and creating memories the Chinese market have lots to look forward to.

Next in this short series, Colin will tell us about his trip to  Guangzhou with a group of UK tourism professionals promoting their businesses at Destination Britain China.

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