Hardly a day goes by without a mention of China in connection with tourism, as the growing Chinese middle classes find their feet in the world.
And while we’ve known so little about them for so long, it turns out they’re not so different from everyone else in what they’re seeking.
We’ve reported on their millennials, looking for different experiences from their parents; on their enjoyment of staycations, as they explore inside their own country; on their need for technology, and their reliance on smartphones for all their transactions and their travel research; and we’ve reported on their love of luxury shopping, and duty free outlets at the airports.
And now they’re really starting to explore the whole world, they have a special interest in Europe.
2018 is EU-China Tourism Year, and with only 2% of visitors to the continent currently coming from China, this market can only grow – if we get it right. There are videos aimed at Chinese outbound visitors about what they can expect when they get to Europe – which is, of course, confusingly made up of many different nationalities, languages and even currencies, in a relatively small space which has no visible borders.
This very week, a new air service has been announced, connecting the busy global financial hubs of London and Shanghai, providing over 70,000 seats each year. And we’ve previously reported on the new direct services between Beijing, Edinburgh and Dublin, and between Hong Kong and Belfast, all of which are opening up new opportunities for Chinese businesspeople and tourists alike to come to Europe as independent travellers, in one simple hop.
Last year, visits from China to the UK itself were up 29%, with a total spend up 35% to £694 million, so not a market to be taken lightly. And yet, if we’re being honest with ourselves, are we really ‘China-ready’ – anywhere in the world?
There are various bodies worldwide helping businesses both locally and further afield to become ready to welcome Chinese incomers in every way they can. Close to home, the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group has China-Ready training and joint marketing campaigns, while VisitBritain’s GREAT China initiative has resources and stats to help everyone get ready to be the best hosts they can be.
But just as we Brits can be lazy with language – English being a pretty universal language wherever you go – how often do you find on your travels somewhere without the option of an English Breakfast? Even where fruit is fresh and ripe and delicious, and cured and preserved meats or speciality breads laid out, you will often find lurking on a menu the full egg-bacon-sausage combo in some form or another, from a safari campfire in Africa to a Viennese patisserie.
So how strange, then, to be a Chinese traveller, visiting another continent for the first time, to be faced with a full English or a Continental Breakfast, even American pancakes with maple syrup – but no option of a Chinese Breakfast!
Breakfast is one of the biggest differences between Chinese and Western cuisine, especially when it comes to dairy products. A Chinese breakfast will usually be washed down with fresh warm soy milk rather than tea or coffee, and tends to be savoury with strong flavours. Rice cakes topped with pickles, preserved eggs, soy sauce or spicy oils. Dumplings filled with minced meat, pancakes or noodles with spicy fish or vegetables. Like a mini lunch – and in China, often bought from a street vendor and eaten on the way to work, so usually something that can be eaten with one hand while in transit.
Of course, we have an advantage in serviced apartments to offer Chinese guests the option to prepare their own breakfast in the apartment kitchen – and offering some core ingredients in their welcome pack such as green tea, noodles and chopsticks – could go a long way to making them feel even more at home.
But with most traditional hotels offering breakfast in the restaurant as part of a stay, we did some quick research to see whether many hoteliers all over the world have added a Chinese Breakfast to their menu, to keep up with this expectation.
There are plenty of hotel chains proudly announcing Chinese-speaking staff ready to welcome visitors in their own tongue (although not necessarily every dialect), Hilton and Marriott in the US among them, but we couldn’t find many Chinese Breakfasts in Europe!
Claridge’s in London offers a Chinese Breakfast for £45, which seems to chime with the love of luxury – but seems steep for what is quite a basic meal back at home. The Deansgate Hilton in Manchester offers them, at least during Chinese New Year. But there just aren’t many out there to find.
So, are we missing a trick?
The next time you find yourself sitting in a tapas bar in Ljubljana, listening to Austrians, Croatians, Americans and Estonians all chatting together in English (obviously), just think how it would feel if there was nothing on a menu anywhere that you could read or recognise – and think about the fact that there are almost one and a half billion Chinese, lots of them looking to tour the world – wouldn’t it be nice if we made them feel truly welcome, first thing in the morning?