A string of Edinburgh’s most prominent buildings and landmarks will be lit up red this week as part of the biggest ever drive to attract more Chinese visitors to the city – now that they are on the verge of outnumbering American tourists in the capital.
Visitor attractions, retailers and tourism businesses across the city are being urged to embrace the Chinese New Year festivities – which traditionally run for at least two weeks – as part of a bid for Edinburgh to become the UK’s most China-friendly destination.
As part of this China Ready strategy led by Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, it is hoped Edinburgh Castle, Jenners, the Balmoral Hotel, the Camera Obscura, the Scotch Whisky Experience and St Andrew Square will be illuminated to coincide with the start of the Year of the Dog on Friday.
According to new industry research, the Chinese market is now in the top 10 for Scottish inbound international travellers.
In Edinburgh, tourism industry leaders want to see growth of up to 15 per cent in the Chinese market by 2020 and a direct air link in place. A partnership agreement struck between bosses at Edinburgh Airport and their counterparts in Beijing last month could pave the way for the long-awaited link.
A surge in Chinese visitors to the city is thought to have played a major role in Edinburgh Castle recording more than two million visitors in a calendar year for the first time.
Other ideas being circulated in the tourism industry include encouraging businesses to host their own Chinese New Year celebrations, hanging up red decorations, encouraging staff to wear red, learning how to greet visitors in Chinese and even leaving red-coloured gifts for them.
Multrees Walk, the upmarket thoroughfare off St Andrew Square which is home to many of the world’s leading luxury brands, will be decorated with lanterns and running special promotions for Chinese New Year.
A gala concert is being staged at the Usher Hall, while the city council has revealed that some schools will be staging their own celebrations – including opera performances, panda conservation workshops, Chinese food and a dragon parade – due to the growing number of Chinese pupils being taught in the capital.
Edinburgh’s Lord Provost, Frank Ross, has also recorded a special video message which is being distributed to Chinese media outlets and via dedicated Edinburgh-run accounts on Chinese social media channels, which have attracted more than 60,000 followers in the space of 12 months.
The Chinese New Year campaign is being rolled out just over two years since an industry-wide initiative began to try to tap into a boom in Chinese travellers to the UK, which has seen the number of visitors soar from just over 100,000 in 2006 to 260,432 in 2016.
The project instigated by the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group targets the city’s so-called “off season” between January and March, as well as the annual Golden Week holiday in China in October.
A key aim is to capture a slice of the market which sees around 6.15 million Chinese people holiday abroad for the festivities – often to visit friends and relatives.
Edinburgh is believed to be home to a record number of students of Chinese origin – more than half of whom are expected to play host to their own visitors to the city at least once a year.
Government agency Historic Environment Scotland has revealed that Chinese visitors now represent nine per cent of visitors to Edinburgh Castle, with more than 177,000 of them flocking over its drawbridge during 2017, just 10,000 behind the number of US visitors.
Nick Finnigan, executive manager at the castle, said: “None of us could have guessed 10 or 15 years ago that we would have as many people coming to the castle of Chinese origin as from the United States. It shows you the kind of reach we are having as a city and country.”
Rob Lang, chair of ETAG’s China Ready initiative said: “We are the home of Hogmanay, and with the city’s largest ever programme of celebrations and events to mark Chinese New Year we hope our Chinese guests will feel equally at home enjoying their own new year in Edinburgh in 2018.”
Organisers of the China Ready project, said that some “China-focused businesses” in the city centre had seen growth of up to 40 per cent in the Chinese market last year.
A spokesman said: “The latest research suggests that Chinese tourists spend on average four times as much as average tourists – with duty free tax refunds and currency exchange proving large incentives to spend whilst on holiday.”
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said: “The Chinese market is a massive opportunity for Edinburgh and Scotland, not just in terms of their numbers, but what they spend.
“It’s growing and evolving all the time. The real Holy Grail for the industry would be a direct air route. If and when that happens it would be a real game-changer.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “China is a fast growing and vital market for Edinburgh.
“Through the China Ready project and the individual efforts of the city centre hotels, retailers and restaurants we have made great progress in ensuring the city is ready to welcome the many Chinese visitors to our city.
“Chinese New year is a key component to this and we are delighted that many partners are running specific events to celebrate this hugely significant time of the year and to welcome in the Year of the Dog.”
The Chinese New Year guide produced by ETAG states: “Just like you would on January 1st, make Chinese guests feel welcome by wishing them a Happy New Year. Bite the bullet and try a bit of Chinese.
“Red decorations, red merchandise displays, staff uniforms featuring red, red paper for your welcome letters, red gifts, red carrier or tote bags – however you choose to, using, giving or wearing red (often embossed with gold) will create a Chinese New Year atmosphere and feeling for your guests, bringing them joy, happiness and good luck.
“The only thing you mustn’t use is red ink which, confusingly, is deemed taboo and symbolic of severing ties. As well as red and gold decorations, items or displays with the coming year’s zodiac animal are similarly auspicious.”
EDINBURGH’S CHINESE NEW YEAR MESSAGE
In his Chinese New Year Message, Lord Provost Frank Ross will say: “As we enter the Year of the Dog, I would like to wish everyone in the Chinese community a very happy new year.
“All over the world, colourful celebrations featuring lanterns and fireworks will mark the coming of the Spring Festival on 16 February.
“I’m delighted that here in Edinburgh, we too will be marking the occasion with a special concert at our Usher Hall following an extraordinary three-month display of giant Chinese lanterns in the grounds of our Zoo.
“Edinburgh Zoo is, of course, home to the UK’s only giant pandas – a wonderful gift from the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association to the people of Edinburgh.
“In recent years, our Scottish celebrations for Chinese New Year have grown – providing us with an opportunity to enhance Scottish people’s understanding of Chinese culture.
“Because at Chinese New Year and all year round, the City of Edinburgh is very proud of its connections with China and South-East Asia.
“In education and academia, Edinburgh’s classrooms promote the learning of Mandarin in our schools, while we welcome a staggering 3,500 students to attend our universities every year in partnership with institutions in China.
“As a city, I certainly hope we will be able to welcome even more visitors from Chinese shores in the year ahead, and we look forward to welcoming you to experience all that Edinburgh has to offer if you are yet to visit.”