CHINESE visitors to Scotland are outspending those from India and Russia for the first time, according to the national tourism agency.
VisitScotland has revealed China has become the most lucrative emerging market for the country per head.
Around 11,000 Chinese visitors are coming to Scotland every year, with the average visitor spending £770 while on the trip – compared to £708 from India and £546 from Russia.
Although the number of visitors is still relatively small, tourism leaders believe there is a huge untapped potential in the Chinese market – particularly in the face of the wider economic downturn.
The number of overseas visitors to Scotland fell by 4 per cent during the first nine months of 2010, with the amount they spent down by 6.2 per cent.
Most Chinese visitors still only come to the UK as part of organised tours or on business trips. Those who do make the trip are spending more per head than American visitors, who make up the bulk of Scotland’s overseas market, with 275,000 visitors a year on average over the past three years.
While American visitors spend £700.20 per head on average in Scotland, compared to £770.53 from China, the American market is worth an estimated £275 million to Scotland, compared to the relatively small £7m from China.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “It is very interesting that Chinese visitors are the highest spenders, as this is very much a new market for Scotland. A lot of Chinese people still do not leave the country, but it is now one of our key emerging markets, along with India and Russia.
“While our Chinese visitors are interested in our stunning scenery and our castles, they also tend to be big spenders, interested in big brands and designer clothes. Many wealthy visitors also want to come to Scotland to play golf and buy luxury items such as whisky.”
VisitScotland has been ploughing more resources into China over recent years, producing a special “toolkit” for businesses on what to expect for typical Chinese visitors, who tend to be well-educated, predominantly male and part of a large group travelling together.
Last year, it emerged 550 travel agents across China had signed up to become “ambassadors” for travel to Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond even travelled to China to help promote the “SCOTSagent” programme, which educates travel operators on aspects of Scotland, including geography, customs, culture and public transport systems.
New business and cultural links between Scotland and China, involving bodies such as Historic Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival, were signed ahead of the transfer of the two giant pandas from Beijing to Edinburgh Zoo before Christmas.