China flights land in Edinburgh

11th June 2018

Today is an important day for the Scottish hospitality industry, as early this morning Edinburgh welcomed the first direct flight from Bejing.

From any angle, the numbers associated with Chinese travel and tourism are phenomenal and in many ways, Edinburgh has been gearing up for Chinese visitors for some time. The Edinburgh Tourism Action Group has been particularly dynamic in its approach towards getting the city China-ready and for this year’s Year of the Dog celebrations, many local China-focused destinations were rolling out the red carpet, red lanterns and red envelopes.

Edinburgh and Scotland, however, have another particular advantage that it could and should leverage further to secure a greater share of this market – its culture for technology innovation.

With a thriving tech community, led by the successes of the likes of Skyscanner, Edinburgh is a hotbed for new travel-tech products. At Criton, we received Scottish Enterprise funding as a bold start-up company and grew in the collaborative environment of Codebase, the UK’s largest technology incubator. Now, after receiving a £5m investment boost and opening an office in London, our DIY app builder for the hospitality sector is gaining traction across the UK and overseas.

For us, and others like us, the Chinese traveller represents a chance to massively scale up. Technology is the means to connect with Edinburgh and the UK’s new Chinese visitors in a way that is both relevant and meaningful for everyone.

Chinese travellers are phenomenally digitally-savvy. Understanding their all-encompassing use of the Chinese social media channels Weibo and WeChat gives a glimpse of the way technology is subsumed into their daily lives.

Last year, according to the Chinese National News Agency, 46 billion electronic red packets – mobile payment versions of the traditional red envelopes containing cash and given as gifts to family members – were sent via WeChat over the New Year period.

When a key driver behind visits to the UK is believed to be the growing Chinese student population on our shores, digital communications become even more pervasive and the role of technologies to enhance and ease a visitor’s travel invaluable.

We already have the means to translate our apps into Mandarin, allowing Chinese visitors to access information about their hotel and location, to communicate with hotel staff via in-app messaging, and benefit from bespoke offers. Our ambitions, however, go much further.

In 2013, Chinese international tourism was said to be worth $128.6 bn. In 2014, a survey found that Chinese visitors to the UK spend four times that of the average international visitor[i].

During the 2017 Chinese New Year holiday, 6.15 million Chinese people travelled abroad, according to official statistics[ii]; while flight forecasts for the UK predicted a 75% increase in tourist arrivals from China for the 2018 celebrations last month, compared to February 2017.

Edinburgh is the most visited destination in the UK for Chinese travellers, outside London. The new flights expand significantly the opportunities for Scotland to capitalise on the Chinese tourists awakened passion for travel.