A restaurant in the UK has translated its menu into Mandarin. That might not be a striking piece of news if the establishment in question was in the heart of London, or next to a tourist attraction like Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. but it wasn’t. It was a fish and chip shop called Scotts Fish and Chips which is situated on the A64 road in Yorkshire, seven miles - nearly 10km - from the centre of York.
Apparently Chinese tour leaders bring coachloads of tourists - more than 100 people visit a week - to give them a taste of the same ‘fish and chip experience’ President Xi enjoyed when visiting the UK in 2015.
Focusing on Chinese tourists is going to be of increasing importance to many industries over the next few years, including wine. The statistics tell the story.
At the turn of the century, the Chinese made 10.5m trips outside their country. By 2007, that figure had swelled to 41m, only to rise nearly fourfold over the following decade. The estimate for this year is 156m, which is particularly impressive considering that fewer than 100m - a mere 7% of the Chinese population - have passports. Over the next dozen years, the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI) expects the number of Chinese tourists to have grown to 400m. Between one in four and one in five international travellers will be Chinese.
The number of people passing through the airports is only part of the story. In 2016, According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Chinese tourists dug into their wallets and pulled out $261.1bn. This is not only twice as much as their US counterparts over the same period, it’s within spitting distance of the cash that was collectively shelled out by the Americans, Germans and Britons.
For the sake of accuracy, most Chinese tourism is currently focused on nearby countries in Asia. Australia and France, for example ‘only’ attracted 1.4m and 1.6m Chinese visitors respectively in 2016. However, those tourists seemed to have enjoyed the experience - research by CCI Paris Île de France suggests that half intend to be back with a year or two. On that return trip, if Shanghai-based agency Marketing to China, is to be believed, their behaviour may change. “Where previously, shopping was a prominent place in the spending budget, it is [now] demoted to third place. Individuals prefer to enjoy their stay through sightseeing and entertainment.”
One wine region that has already embraced the experiential potential offered by Chinese tourism is California’s Napa valley. Unsurprisingly, one of the first wineries to welcome Mandarin speakers in their own language on tours and tastings was Yao Family Wines, founded by Shanghai-born, former Houston Rockets NBA star, Yao Ming. But, as the Napa Valley Register reveals, other wineries employing Chinese-speaking guides include Mondavi, Beringer and Castello di Amorosa. And, naturally, there’s now a Chinese language option on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
Exploiting this boom does not mean simply recruiting a Mandarin speaker and translating some printed material. In 2017, the NSW Business Chamber in Australia commissioned a lengthy report on ‘Maximising Chinese Tourism’, which identified the need to place digital technology at the top of a list of priorities. The authors state that: “The power of Social Media for Chinese visitors cannot be overstated… their ability to provide on-line testimonials in real-time as well as post visit are proven drivers of business.” Australia, they go on to say “lags far behind” China in terms of strong mobile connectivity and low or free costs of access”.
If promoting your business on Chinese platforms such as Weibo and WeChat and offering free high quality wi-fi in your winery are important, so apparently, is providing the visitors with ‘bragging rights’. The report authors continue: “Relevant, unique ’Signature’ products/experiences which are preceived as ‘must-do’ by Chinese visitors back home… provide reasons to visit [and are] the key to competing for Chinese visitors.”
One leading Hunter Valley producer confirmed the truth of this when he told me about the number of A$150.00 ($107.90) bottles he was selling at cellar door. “We don’t sell them anywhere else, and it’s only the Chinese who are buying them.”
Readers working in smaller wineries, far from the honeypots of Napa, the Hunter Valley or Bordeaux, may gently point out that their region doesn’t see thousands of Chinese tourists, and they lack the means to compete with business of the scale of Mondavis and Beringer. To which I would simply respond, if a privately-owned British fish and chip shop 200 miles from London can crack a bit of the Chinese market, maybe you can too.